"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

On chasing wild geese

You might have gathered by now that I have a tendency to flit about in my research, picking up and putting down different projects as my mood changes, and one of the things I have been working on for a while, on-and-off, is a descendancy of my 4x great-grandfather, Joseph Bryan Geoghegan.
I’ve mentioned JBG, as I usually shorthand him, in my post G is for Geoghegan. He’s my absolute favourite ancestor, because he had a long, fascinating and semi-famous life. He also effectively founded a dynasty, having two wives and fathering 20 known children altogether. (Some sources quote 22, but I only have 20 in my tree so far.) Plus, he has a nice unusual name to work with: the ideal candidate for my descendancy experiment.
As you already know, I do have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about extended family, and I routinely try to identify siblings’ marriages and children. However, I rarely go further than this, or go on off on a wild goose chase if I can’t find them easily, unless I’m looking for a particular piece of info that contributes to my wider genealogy. To try and investigate all the descendants of an ancestor just for the fun of it is a bit bonkers, to be honest!
So far I have identified 125 possible descendants of JBG (across all generations). It’s kind of tricky, as I’m essentially doing genealogy backwards, but actually it’s teaching me to think outside of the box, to focus on useful information that I tend not to pay that much attention to (father’s occupations and marriage witnesses have proved key) and to use my usual sources in different ways. It’s also turning up some fascinating discoveries.
I came across a second marriage of JBGs daughter Annie Birchall Geoghegan, which I would probably never have found otherwise, to a William Proctor Oliver in 1903. He was 26 years old. She was 44 but claimed she was 38, and she continued to lie about her age on the 1911 census as well!
Then I discovered that Annie’s daughter Ellen Christina Bennett had married in 1910 to a George Harold Oliver – some relation to her stepfather William, perhaps? George Oliver’s father is given as Emmanuel Oliver on the parish record; I have yet to identify what connection, if any, there is to William Proctor Oliver.
The parish record also gave one of the wedding witnesses as Charles Phillip Bennett. I assumed that this was Ellen’s brother Charles, though I’ve never come across the middle name before. However, as Charles was still unmarried in 1911, I took a guess that I’d probably be able to find him on the 1911 census, and went to Ancestry to do a search, on the logic that from this I would be able to find an occupation that would help me to identify him in marriage records – and also just ‘cos I was curious!
Ancestry brought up the following:  Charles Bennett, b. abt. 1890, Bolton, Lancashire. Boarder at Woolpach Hotel Inn, 29 Commerce Street, Longton, Stoke On Trent. Marital Status: single. Occupation: clerk, china factory.
I was immediately excited, because it is yet another family link to Stoke on Trent, where JBG had a music hall just before he died, and where his son in law, my 3x great-grandfather Matt Hall also had a music hall around this time.
However, then something else struck me. I had seen this address before; this was where Matt Hall’s daughter Marion Hall was living and working as a barmaid... on the 1911 census. I was sure of it. Yet she wasn’t listed in the household here. (I was slightly scuppered by the fact that this was in my lunch hour, today, and I don’t have flash on my work PC so I couldn’t see the original)
Looking at my entry for Marion on Ancestry, I discovered that I hadn’t found her in Ancestry’s version of the 1911 census, which meant I must have found her on the ‘old’ 1911 census website. I went back to the website, which very kindly allows you to see records you’ve already viewed without paying for them again, and found the household (again, only the transcript, I hadn’t paid for the original in this case).
Both Marion Hall and Charles Bennett appear here, along with Jane (or ‘Lane’, as Ancestry has it) Rowe, the cook and Charlotte Sullivan, the manageress, who doesn’t appear on the Ancestry transcript either. However, it doesn’t feature the 6 members of the Tattersall’s family to be found on Ancestry’s version – who, it turns out, all lived at number 27 Commerce Street.  I assume Jane Rowe and Charles Bennett have somehow been accidentally tagged onto the wrong household by Ancestry.
Had it been the 1901 census, it would be more understandable, as the households followed on from one another on each page, and I’ve frequently found instances where two households have accidentally been lumped together in transcription. But since the 1911 census is made up of individual forms for each household, I’m not sure how this could have happened. I’ve still been unable to find Marion or Charlotte Sullivan, and I can only assume they have been completely missed from the transcription by Ancestry, which is somewhat frustrating. But it does remind you of the importance of checking multiple sources! And to keep a track of addresses!
Anyway, having solved that little mystery, I was delighted to find out that Charles, whom I had originally taken to just be a guest at the inn, was in fact Marion’s cousin! I suppose it could be coincidental that they ended up in the same place, but it hardly seems likely. So their mutual presence goes some way to confirming the relationship on both sides. I couldn’t be 100 per cent certain that this was the correct Marion before, and nor could I have been completely certain that this was the correct Charles Bennett without Marion’s’ presence either! And as well as corroborating one another’s identities, this meeting sheds some light on an issue that had previously played on my mind.
In 1896 Matt Hall divorced his wife Kate for adultery, and she subsequently disappears from my family history. I’ve found no trace of her at all following the divorce. In 1901, Marion is living with her father in Stoke on Trent. Her brothers and sisters are not fully accounted for, but I believe that they were travelling and working in theatres at this time, and that they were mainly in the care of their father. In 1922 Matt Hall dies, and all five children contribute warm and loving obituary messages to the Stage publication. All of this is testament to their very close relationship with a loving father. But given that so many members of their mother’s large family were also heavily involved in the theatrical world, I had often wondered what relations were like between them. Seeing this glimpse of Charles staying with his cousin Marion is enough, I think, to confirm that they remained in contact with the maternal family.
I have still to find a marriage for Charles Bennett. I think I already have a marriage for Marion, but I need to order the marriage certificate to be sure. But even if my descendancy never fully ‘descends’, my wild goose chase will have been worth it to have discovered this tiny but vital piece of my story.
L x


  1. It would seem following some very quick scanning of censuses that George Harold Oliver and William Proctor Oliver were brothers. Ellen Bennett effectively married her step-uncle!

  2. Some fabulous detective work there! Spent part of my childhood near Stoke on Trent and have always loved Arnold Bennet's Clayhanger which so brilliantly captures the five towns in the period you've being investigating.

  3. Thanks! Yes, I keep thinking I should read Bennett's books, because he seems to crop up whenever I'm investigating anything to do wiht the area's history. Lauren


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