Tuesday 23 October 2012

Cat induced insomnia and Edith Alice pt1

I love my cat, she's nineteen years old and yet so small people who haven't met her before thinks she's a kitten. BUT she insists on having things her way, usually in the early hours of the morning.  She has strategies for getting you to obey - scratching the bedroom cabinets, running up and down the stairs and around the landing like a herd of elephants - how can someone so small have such heavy feet? It was food at 1:30am then clean her litter tray at 3am and now she's noisily washing right in the middle of our bed.

So now I'm awake here's the story of Edith Alice.  Some people may have read this before as it is on my family history website and it was published in parts in the Barnsley Family History journal Domus Historiae but for posterity and because I fancied tidying it up a bit here it is again:

Addictive Hobby? or Obsession? (orginally written 2009)
When I’m stuck down yet another blind alley people try to cheer me up by saying, “If it was all plain sailing it wouldn’t be as interesting”. Well, sometimes I wish the wind would get up and blow the darkness around one particular ancestor away. She is the one I always come back to when other branches are getting a bit tedious and she has cost me more in time and certificates than most of the others. This is the story of my obsession. I have been researching my husband’s family tree for about seven years (more like nine now), and more so since I moved to Barnsley. I have received a lot of help from his mum, who had the legendary “box under the bed/on the top shelf of the cupboard” of certificates and a good memory for family names and events. I am now the proud possessor of a very healthy tree for their family in all but one respect. This is the story of Edith Alice, my husband’s great grandmother. She died in 1983 and my mother in law had her death certificate. This states that Edith Alice Benson, maiden name Green was born in Barnsley on 5th October 1898. Sounds straightforward doesn’t it?

My first step was to look in the Births’ indexes for an Edith or Edith A or Edith Alice Green born on that date or thereabouts. I have learned the hard way that you shouldn’t trust what you see on any document, no matter how official it might be. Edith’s death was reported by her son Herbert, and he will have given what he thought was the correct date, but this may have been based on when Edith celebrated her birthday and the age he thought she was. The nearest “hit” I could find in Barnsley was an Edith born in 1900, and cross checking on the 1901 census this one was born in Birdwell to a Horatio (wonderful name) Green, a coal miner. There were a scattering of other possibilities from Bradford to Rotherham which I also noted. As none of these seemed 100% likely I tried to narrow down the field by searching for Edith’s marriage certificate to my husband’s great grandfather, Thomas Edward Benson. My mother in law had said that she was sure Edith had been married before and so it turned out. When the certificate arrived Edith Alice Hayes, aged 25 and a widow, married in Barnsley Register Office on 5th May 1924. She stated that her father was George Albert Green, a Boiler Fireman. She was living at 28 Albion Road, Stairfoot and one of the witnesses was a Minnie Green, maybe her sister or mother.

It was all coming together now, or so I thought.

I still couldn’t find a birth certificate for Edith and when I tried looking for George Albert Green, a birth or a marriage in Barnsley, he was also elusive. Of course he may not have always used Albert, so I did check all the George Greens in Barnsley in 1901 (remember this is before the release of the 1911 census), but there were no signs of an Edith or an Alice aged around two or three. I tried looking for Minnie Green or a marriage of Minnie “something” to a George Green. No luck. I also tried searching for Edith Green’s marriage to “somebody” Hayes and any children born to a Hayes where the mother’s maiden name was Green.

As this was a few years ago it was a long slog going through all the microfiche of the indexes, doing the same searches today is relatively easy on Free BMD or Ancestry. Again the information from my mother in law gave me a clue, but it was very tantalising. She said that Edith and Thomas’s eldest son was called Herbert, I had found a birth for a Herbert Benson in Barnsley but he was born in 1923 (earlier than the marriage date I had), and his mother’s maiden name was Padgett. I assumed this was the wrong one and that the Herbert I was after was missing from the indexes just like Edith. But at least I wrote it down … you should always write down the wrong answers you find and the records you have searched, you never know it might add up and make sense after all! The family had lived in Carlton, so I searched the baptism and marriage records for that church in case there were any clues there. I did find the baptism of Herbert Benson in 1923, but his mother was given as Alice. I began to think that Thomas Edward had been married twice, once to Alice Padgett and then to Edith Alice Hayes (née Green). You must remember that I was just at the beginning of my husband’s family tree at this point and most of the other branches were bearing a lot more fruit. I relegated Edith to the bottom of the research pile for quite a few years after these dead ends. I had high hopes that the 1911 census would “sort her out” with no problems, so I left her alone and spent many happy hours chasing Bensons around Dewsbury and Taylors around Castleford.

The 1911 census was released early in 2009, three years earlier than anticipated. I was very lucky in that Barnsley and Sheffield were amongst the first parts of the census to be released. I gave them my money and searched for the obvious family members first. It was only a month later that I tried searching for the “hard nuts”. There was still no sign of Edith Alice, George Albert or Minnie Green in Barnsley. This was the proverbial brick wall. Remembering my earlier musings about a Padgett wife for Thomas Benson I tried a few searches of Free BMD combining Benson and Padgett – lo and behold Thomas’s youngest daughter’s birth was recorded in 1934 with mother’s maiden name Padgett although the previous two children, in 1926 and 1928, had both been listed with mother’s maiden name Green. So unless Thomas was married to both ladies AT THE SAME TIME and having children by them both (… images of him popping down the road for a pint and calling in at the other wife’s house…) I was missing something obvious.

I decided to send for the birth certificate for Herbert Benson. At least it would confirm (I hoped) who his mother was. This was a major break through. The certificate showed that Herbert was born on 18 October 1923 at 28 Albion Road, Stairfoot. The very same address that Edith gives when she marries Thomas the following year. His father is clearly stated to be Thomas Edward Benson, but Thomas’s address is given in the informant section as 8 Chapman’s Row, Carlton. The mother’s details were Edith Alice Hayes formerly Padgett.

Although Edith was not married to Thomas when Herbert was born, Thomas was happy to put his name on the birth certificate, which suggests that he was in no doubt that he was the father. So Edith and Thomas had been an item since at least the beginning of 1923. Why had they not got married when she found out she was expecting? It has never been unusual for the first child to arrive “early” in a marriage, despite what our parents like us to think when we are younger. Further searches of Free BMD revealed a marriage between Edith Alice Paget (yes, no D and only one T) and James Hayes in 1917, so with my fingers crossed I sent for this certificate. On its arrival I saw that the marriage had taken place in Ardsley parish church on 15 September 1917. There was no father’s name against Edith Alice Paget, but, and this was an interesting twist, one of the witnesses was George Albert Green. Edith’s address was 28 Albion Road, Ardsley so this cross checks again, James’s address was 26 Albion Road, so the house next door maybe. Edith’s given age still supported her being born around 1898/9. Edith was staying or lodging with the Greens then, in 1917.

My next thoughts were that maybe Minnie Green was her mother and George Albert her stepfather. That might have accounted for the ambiguity of his name in different places on the marriage certificates. However I could only find one marriage of an Emma M Padgett to a George Green in the proper timescale and on sending for the certificate it turned out to be incorrect as M stood for Matilda and they had married in Dodworth in 1912. Emma M Padgett was perfectly traceable in the census living in Silkstone, not old enough to have had a child in 1898. Next I began a search for Edith Alice Paget or Padgett. There are a lot of Padget(t)s in Barnsley. But NONE of them fitted my nemesis. I have lovely partial family trees of the Worsborough and Silkstone Padgetts if anyone is interested, but no Edith Alice. I have tried looking for James Hayes’s death, but the only one who dies in Barnsley isn’t until 1933. There is one who dies the right age in Basford, but that’s near Nottingham. On his marriage to Edith he says his father’s name is Harry Hayes, a miner. I can’t find a James, son of Harry in Barnsley.

To complicate matters further on the Register of Electors for 1919, whilst living at 26 Albion Road, James gives his name as James Dawson Hayes and his wife is Alice Hayes, no mention of the Edith. It looks as if she didn’t use Edith much, she is given as Alice at Herbert’s baptism too, remember. Why is James using Dawson as a middle name? He doesn’t mention it when he marries. Incidentally their neighbours in the Register of Electors at 28 Albion Road are George Albert and Minnie Green, with Lewin Green listed in a secondary column, so they really did exist. I can’t find any Lewin or Lewis Green in Barnsley, so that clue was another dead end. The Greens remained registered at the same address into the 1930s, but I found James and Alice in 1919 only. I have tried an address search on the 1911 census, but 26 and 28 Albion Road are not listed, although the rest of the street is.

I will try again when we get more access to the census later in October. I recently sent for the death certificate of Edith and James’s second son Edward. As he didn’t die until after Edith had married Thomas in 1924 I wondered where they were living at the time and if anything useful might come to light. It turned out to be a sad story, reported in the Barnsley Chronicle of the day (9th August 1924); “Swallowed a Halfpenny - Singular Death of Monk Bretton Child”. They were living at 12 Chapel Street, Monk Bretton at this time. The newspaper says Edward, who was aged three at the time of his death, was the son of the late James Hayes and mentions Thomas Edward Benson as his step-father.

This corroborates Edith’s claim that she was a widow at her second marriage. Edward was born at the beginning of 1921, so we have narrowed down James Hayes disappearance to sometime after Edward’s conception in the spring of 1920, which correlates with the Register of Electors entries and before the winter of 1922/23 when Thomas Edward appears. His death or disappearance does not appear to be anything to do with the First World War. I know the family moves to 28 Ridings Avenue by 1926, as Thomas Edward Benson is listed there in the Register of Electors. So here I am, in the autumn of 2009, seven years down the line, no nearer to finding out about my husband’s great grandmother Edith. I will, no doubt, continue to return to the puzzle whenever I have a few moments. In fact my husband and daughter have begun to suspect that I think about her most of the time, whenever I look a bit vague they know the answer to the question, “What’s on your mind?” will be … Edith Alice!  

There's a second part to this story ... are you waiting with bated breath?


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