When the family tree was transferred from Ancestry to TNG via Family Tree Maker (FTM) a glitch caused hundreds of media files, mostly documents, to become detached from their “owners” and I am currently  in the process of reconnecting them.  I am purposefully making time to critically examine the data  in the documents to validate against the data in our family tree, a lot of which had been gleaned from Ancestry hints from other member trees. 

Many people on genealogy forums that I belong to distrust information from other member trees because it is badly researched, often has no sources to back it up and is simply derived by copying verbatim from other member trees without any form of validation.   Then other members copy it to their trees and, before long, the hints are heavily biased towards bad data.  The result is a never ending stream of poor quality Ancestry hints, which was one of my reasons for moving from Ancestry to TNG.

This article describes one of the more interesting cases that I found.

1861 England Census

The 1861 Census for John Barrett included a few interesting entries, shown below in descending generation order.

Fig 1. From the 1861 census

Percival’s birth and death

There are no lines connecting these boxes in Fig 1 because the relationships and descriptions are ambiguous, perhaps deliberately so.  Eliza is given as John’s daughter in law but also as unmarried which is contradictory I could accept widowed but there was no associated death of a son and it would not have been the practice at that time for a widowed woman to revert to her birth name.  Still it’s reasonable to assume that she is Percival’s mother.  If we look at the birth register there is only one possible candidate for the boy…

Fig 2 – Percival Alder’s Birth Record

… but, unfortunately his mother’s name is not given.  However, it has to be him – there are simply no other realistic possibilities.

If we jump forward to 1881, his death index entry gives a modified name…

Fig 2 – Percival Alder’s Death Record

… so somewhere along the line he has acknowledged some Barrett ancestry.  Was he right to do so?   Did John Barrett behave so “grandfatherly” towards him that he believed himself a Barrett? Did he have some actual evidence to support it?

And didn’t he die young? Only 22. We’ll come back to that issue.

Eliza, Percival’s Mother

OK so we can be fairly certain about Percival, and it’s reasonable to assume Eliza is his mother.  After all, she bears the same name and is present at the same address as a two year old of the same family name when the census was taken.  She is not marked as a visitor so we can assume she was resident.

What can we find out about her? In terms of baptism dates and place, there is only one realistic candidate, and look at the mother’s name:

Fig 3 – Eliza’s Birth Record

Appleton is just a few miles from Tubney, right in the Barrett family heartlands at that time so it seems a good probability that this is our girl. Because Eliza’s mother’s name was given as Harriet Alder I looked for possible matches, figuring that 1809 +/- 10 years would be about right.  I found four entries:

Fig 4 Eliza’s Possible Mothers

We know Number 1.  She’s the Harriet Alder in our tree.  And so is number 2 (that’s just another record of the same event).  The 3 and 4 pair are not related to our tree in any way that I can find, so far.

Conclusion – Eliza’s mother is possibly our Harriet,  There are no other Harriet Alders in that time span.

Harriet’s Secret is Concealed?

The next issue is that there is an Eliza Alder in our tree, but her relationship to Harriet is not of the next generation, a daughter but is of the same generation, a sister.

Fig 5 – The Eliza in our Tree

Something is clearly wrong.  So next I looked at Eliza’s parents (according to our family tree).

Harriet’s Secret is Revealed?

Fig 6 – Eliza’s Parents in our Tree

Look at her mother Elizabeth Winter’s birth date.  If correct, then she was 51 when Eliza was born.  I suppose it’s not impossible but it would be unlikely in the 21st Century so how likely would it be in the 19th?  Meanwhile her sister Harriet Alder (our Harriet Alder) was 24 when Eliza was born.  The obvious conclusion is that the true mother of Eliza is our Harriet, who had Eliza illegitimately two years before she married John Barrett on 16 Nov 1831, but she was portrayed as Elizabeth Winter’s child (for reasons of propriety?)

One other possibility is that Eliza is actually John Barrett’s daughter – that he and Harriet had a child before they were married which is why he was happy to recognise Percival as his true grandson on the 1861 Census.  By then, both Elizabeth (1855) and her husband William (1856) were dead, so that part of the family secret could be acknowledged in an official record that would not be seen for 100 years, even if the pretence that Eliza was Harriet’s sister had to be maintained because both were still alive.  If that’s the case then the 1861 Census Relationships from Fig 1 can be redrawn like this:

Fig 7 – 1861 Census as it should have been?

Who is Percival’s Father?

I must admit that the first time I looked at the 1861 Census I had my suspicions as to why we had an Eliza Alder – Unmarried – 30 under the same roof as Albert John Barrett – Unmarried – 17, and whether there might have been a dalliance between the two, but that would mean that Eliza was Harriet’s sister and Albert not only got it on with an older woman, but his blood related Aunt. But it could explain why John referred to her as his daughter-in-law.  Maybe that also explains why Percival only made it to 22 – a genetic disorder? Update 08 Aug 2017: This is unlikely – and Sheila also thinks it’s a leap too far – see link to her post at the foot of this post.

We can never know the true answer to this question.  My hunch is that Figure 7 is close to truth because it’s the most obvious.  We know from the birth records that Eliza was the illegitimate daughter of Harriet. Whether John Barrett was her biological father or whether he took his unmarried “sister-in-law” in when she became pregnant, we can never know.  But I do think the family tree needs to be updated to reflect Eliza’s true mother, even if we have to assume ‘Spouse unknown.’

Paul Barrett

03 Aug 2017

See also this post

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Sheila

    I vaguely remember addressing this issue before. Don’t do anything to the tree until I’ve had a chance to go over my notes again. There’s some logic in what you’re saying but can’t believe I overlooked it and can’t remember my conclusions. Will get back to you when I have gone through my notes.

  2. Paul Barrett

    It’ll be great to see what your research notes say but I was going to wait till I heard from you before I edited the tree, because I could be completely wrong about this.

  3. Sheila

    I am sorry to say that I think your assessment is wrong. The theory could easily be believed because in doing research over a number of years it’s not surprising to find many Chidren being born a few months after marriage!!
    Why do I think you are mistaken? – look at the 1851 census RG HO107 Piece 1688 Folio 31 page 11
    It has the Eliza in question down as daughter born in 1829 and also has an Elizabeth Barrett age 12 born 1839. Why would they name two daughters like this. At the time I found it I took great pains to investigate because it seemed such an anomaly. I went back to the 1841 census for the Alders, William born1786 and Elizabeth born 1791. On this census there is Eliza Alder age 12 born in 1829. That would make her mother Elizabeth 38 at the time of her birth. I think Eliza Alder was just entered as daughter to John and Harriett as a mistake
    Also can I please reiterate, that I have never taken stuff from other people’s trees without examining it first and I agree that most of what other people put on is highly questionable.
    As to Percival’s father I need to look again so give me a bit more time on that

  4. Paul Barrett

    Didn’t mean to imply you hadn’t checked. It could just as easily (more probably) have been me! 🙂

    I will go look at that Census.

  5. Sheila

    I know, I apologise because I get hypersensitive sometimes. I was actually thinking of deleting my previous reply cos reading it again it sounds a tad harsh.
    I’m going to look at the whole thing in a bit more detail later re Harriet Eliza and Percival

    1. Paul Barrett

      Ha Ha! You know you can edit a reply too?

      But I understand. When you have pored over something for ages and then someone questions it, it ain’t a good feeling.

  6. Paul Barrett

    Right, Im looking at that Census and I see that in 1851 we have both Elizabeth and Eliza Barrett,. I think we have to set aside Elizabeth for now. If 12 in 1851 and 22 in 1861 she may well have been married by this time and be recorded elsewhere.

    If we turn to Eliza, on the 1851 census we have one shown as “Barrett, Daughter, Unmarried, Female, 22 Born, 1829” which puts her birth year 2 years before John and Harriet married. If she is, in fact, the daughter of William and Elizabeth Alder, then there is some almighty cock up on the 1861 Census Record for John Barrett to describe her as his daughter-in-law, unmarried and going by her birth name. If she WAS Willm. & Eliz’s what was she doing at the Barrett house? What was her status? Visiting? If so why not listed as Visitor? Lodging? If so why not record her as lodger? So did they also got her residence wrong, a FOURTH mistake? It’s quite a catalogue of errors don’t you think?

    The date of Elizabeth’s birth is also in doubt now isn’t it. The 1841 Census shows it as 1791, whereas her main entry in the tree says 1785. And William’s is inconsistent too, being 06 Jun 1778 on his main record and 1785 on the 1851 Census. Do you think it might be possible that there is another William and Elizabeth Alder?

    If I check William’s birth date there is a confirming baptism record for 17 Jun 1778 so the date on his main record looks right. If I search for baptism events around 1785 there are three candidates, one on 16 Oct 1875 but in Shepperton, another on 22 Feb 1786 in Wanteg and the final one on 24 Dec 1786 in Letcombe Regis, and all to different parents than our William.

    I am not sure where we stand with this at the moment. It seems that as soon as you get one piece sorted, the rest shifts and casts your earlier decison in doubt.

    I haven’t given up on the “Eliza as the illegitimate daughter of Harriet Alder (and possibly the biological daughter of John Barrett)” theory yet. 🙂 But I can see your logic too. I just don’t quite know how to validate any of it given so many questionable dates and facts. 🙁

  7. Sheila

    John Barrett could simply have made a mistake.. But there is other evidence of people moving around in families to help out at different times. Maybe there was another” misleading” of officials as experienced with the Grants. These are just 2 examples off the top of my head but it’s obvious I need to examine it all in depth again. I’m too tired to concentrate on it properly tonight and we are out tomorrow so will look at it on Sunday

    1. Paul Barrett

      There’s no rush. They’ve all been dead a long time, a few more weeks won’t hurt. How can I help?

      Mind you that would have been the mother of all mistakes wouldn’t it?

      I still wonder whther he had come clean following the death of Harriet’s parents. But I may be totally wrong

  8. Sheila

    Thanks for offer of help but let me explore some avenues first. I will then share what I find with you and if things can’t be resolved we will get our heads together to go in other directions.

  9. Sheila

    Well, as you will see from the new article your instinct was right all along. I am annoyed with myself for overlooking it but you can’t concentrate on lots of bits at a time in research. So apologies you were right and I was wrong but it was a great exercise in working together to get to the bottom of ideas!

  10. Paul Barrett

    Yep, another pair of eyes can sometimes make all the difference. I’m pleased we got to the bottom of this.

  11. Sheila

    Were you surprised at the content?

    1. Paul Barrett

      Yes and no. This happened quite frequently. The day after having my suspicions about this one, I found one in Barbara’s ancestors in the 19th C. There was a group of 3 or 4 families who lived in the same road in Bagshot who seemed to spend the best part of a century playing musical beds, mostly IN wedlock.

      Once again, Dad would be mortified. First we had publicans, now we have hanky-panky!

      Is the new article ready for publication?

  12. Sheila

    Yes it’s been pending for review for a couple of hours. If you haven’t received it I’ll send again

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