Isaac Emmerson, my great great great grandfather, was born on 14th March 1848 in Fornham All Saints, Suffolk, a small village just north of Bury St Edmunds. His parents were Joseph, a labourer, and Phoebe.

Map of Suffolk, including Fornham All Saints, 1896-1904
A map of Suffolk showing Fornham All Saints, circa 1900.

Using the census records, my Emmerson line was fairly simple to trace back to Joseph and Phoebe. However, in this case, Isaac’s marriage and death certificates revealed some interesting details about his life. I have also found Isaac mentioned in several articles in the British Newspaper Archive.

The 1861 census showed that Isaac lived with his parents and 7 siblings in Fornham All Saints, a village described as “wholly agricultural” in The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868). It’s perhaps not so surprising then, aged 13, he was working as an agricultural labourer. He had almost certainly worked from a younger age – his brothers George, 9, and Henry, 7, were also working as agricultural labourers. It appears this wasn’t the situation for all children living in the village. Looking through a few of the census pages there were a number of children, particularly girls, attending school.

I found the next mention of Isaac in the British Newspaper Archive. In the 30th August 1870 edition of The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald, an article under “Borough Petty Session, Bury” explain Isaac and his brother George were charged with assaulting Ambrose Nunn (who may well have been related to the Emmerson family, Nunn was Phoebe’s maiden name). In 1871 Isaac was charged with “damaging a certain willow tree” (in fact, it explains that the 13 foot bough was brought into court!). According to the article, he attempted to make a fishing rod, to “snare a pike with”.

By 1873 Isaac had left Fornham All Saints and during that year he married Jane Marshall in Brimington, Derbyshire. Jane had left Hoton, Leicestershire, where she was born, and moved to Brimington with her family. None of Isaac’s family moved to Derbyshire, quite why he moved there remains a mystery.

Their first child, Joseph, my great great grandfather, was born in Brimington on 19th September. Isaac and Jane’s marriage certificate revealed they married on 2nd September – less than three weeks before Joseph was born!

Isaac later moved back to Suffolk. In 1881 he lived with Jane and their two sons, Joseph and James, in Bury St Edmunds. Later that year he, and his brother George, were again in trouble with the law, this time for “using a gun for the purpose of taking game without a licence”. In the article they were described as “two old offenders”. In 1882 Isaac committed a similar crime, with a man named John East.

Last year I finally found Isaac and his family in the 1891 census. Isaac had given his name as “John Smith”, while his wife Jane and three sons were recorded with their correct forenames. What confirmed that this was the correct family was their ages and places of birth. Jane was born in Hoton, Leicestershire (though recorded as Leicester, Leicestershire on this census), Joseph was born in Brimington, Derbyshire, James in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk (on this census it was mistakenly recorded as Bury, Lancashire) and Walter in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire. What the family they, or perhaps more likely Isaac, hiding from?

The “Smith” family of Newark.

In 1894 Isaac was fined 5 shillings for not sending his children to school. In 1895 he was in court for the same reason, his 12 year old son Walter had refused to go to school. According to The Nottingham Evening post, Isaac was willing to send Walter to a reformatory and said he would pay what he could afford. Isaac explained he was earning just 16 shillings a week working full time, around £45-47 today. Walter did indeed leave Newark, in 1901 he was a servant for a farming family in Little Eccleston, Lancashire, where he worked as a Cattleman.

Isaac’s wife Jane died in 1904, and in the 1911 census he was recorded as living in Newark Union Workhouse, Bowbridge Road. He died of Influenza and Bronchopneumonia on 1st December 1922 in Bowbridge House, which seems to be the same workhouse, and had been “admitted from The Ship Inn”. Records from Deceased Online revealed he was buried in Newark-on-Trent Cemetery three days later.

Newark Union Workhouse, 1915.

At first glance Isaac Emmerson was “only” a labourer, but the various records have revealed much more about his character and the history of the Emmerson family. No doubt there are a few more stories out there I’ve yet to uncover…

The Pearce Family

In the last few days I’ve been looking at filling in a few gaps in my own family tree. One was to confirm the parents of my great great great grandmother Mary Ann Pearce.

Earlier this year I ordered my great great grandmothers birth certificate, Mary Ann’s daughter Sarah Ann Thomas. As she had a common name and there were several possible entries, I had to order without a GRO reference. Through her marriage certificate I had already discovered her fathers name was David Thomas, a boatman, which helped me locate the family on the census records.

I had been told by a distant relative on Ancestry that Mary Ann Thomas’ maiden name was Pearce/Pierce, and as expected Sarah Ann’s birth certificate confirmed this. The next step was to order David and Mary Ann’s marriage certificate. This gave their fathers’ names – David Thomas and William Pearce, both labourers.

Today I thought I’d have another attempt at finding Mary Ann on the 1861 census, which was 3 years before she married. Taking another look at David and Mary Ann’s marriage certificate gave the name of two witnesses – James and Selina Haudley/Handley. The marriage certificate also showed they were both living in Tipton.

In the past I had found various family trees on Ancestry which recorded Mary Ann’s parents as William, from London, and Ann, from Somerset. While this was almost certainly the correct family, I wanted to find more proof. There were some large variations in Mary Ann and David’s years and places of birth across the 1871, 1881 and 1891 census records. In 1861 the likely Pearce family were recorded as living at Bell Street, Tipton, Staffordshire.

It was on the 1851 census that everything started to come together. The same Pearce family were lodgers living with the Hadly family, including a 7 year old Selina Pearce – surely the same Selina named as a witness on Mary Ann’s marriage certificate. After trying a few variations on a marriage search on Find My Past I found a marriage record in Dudley registration district in 1862 for James Handley, which showed he married one of Silena (sic) Pierce and Thomas Taylor (it appears Thomas Taylor’s bride is missing from the index)!

The 1871 census added a final piece of evidence. In 1871 James and Selina Handley and family lived with three lodgers – a widow named Ann Pearce, and presumably her two sons, Thomas, 22, and Charles, 18. A quick check back on the previous census records confirmed these were indeed Ann’s sons and Mary Ann’s brothers.

My next aim is to confirm Mary Ann’s mothers maiden name. There is one entry in 1846 in Dudley for the birth of a Mary Ann Pearce, however the 1851 census shows another Mary Ann Pearce born in Dudley around 1846. If this turns out to be the wrong Mary Ann Pearce, I may again have to use the help of her sister Selina!

The Elmer line

Annie Elmer, my great grandmother, was fairly simple to locate on the 1911 census. At 17 years old she was living with her parents and several siblings in Croydon, Surrey, and worked as a domestic servant. Her parents William and Ellen had been married 28 years.

Annie Elmer with my great grandfather, Bertie Ridley

The family can just as easily be found on the 1901 census, but going back to 1891 took a little longer. The family surname had been recorded as “Elma”, and William and Ellen’s place of birth was “N.K.” – not known. They were also recorded as 26 years old, suggesting a year of birth of around 1865. Their estimated year of birth did vary between the 1901 and 1911 censuses by a year or two, but in William’s case it was 5 years off what I later found out to be his correct year of birth.

The next step was to find their marriage record, which would hopefully give the names and occupations of their fathers. Eventually I did find them – William Almer and Ellen Hickey, married in 1882 in Croydon. The certificate showed William and Ellen signed with an X, which made sense of the issue with the Elmer/Almer surname – they were both illiterate.

Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find William in the 1881 census. At the time of his marriage he was living in Croydon, although the 1901 and 1911 show he was born in Colchester, Essex. The marriage certificate gave William’s fathers name as John, a labourer.

I again found the details I had weren’t completely accurate. The 1861 & 1871 censuses and the the birth index showed there was no William Elmer (or Elma, Almer etc…!) born in Colchester around 1860. William was actually from Boxted, Essex, a village a few miles north of Colchester.

Although I have solved a few mysteries here, there are still a few more remaining. Along with finding William in the 1881 census, I’ve not found definitive death records for either of them. There is only one entry for William that seems likely – one that died aged 89 in Surrey North Eastern registration district in 1949. For Ellen there are two possible entries – one died aged 55 in Croydon, and another 1939 in Surrey Mid Eastern. I may just have to take a chance and order the certificates to find out…

When The British Newspaper Archive website was launched last year, I found a few interesting stories involving some of my ancestors (more on those another time…). It’s been a while since I last had a look, and with new pages being added all the time, I thought it might be worth another search. Perhaps there would be something to add to the story behind William and James Baines?

I searched for “James Baines”, once filtering with Nottinghamshire results, another with Lincolnshire. One result mentioned “James Baines, Eagle”, and was from 1870. Considering the 1871 census shows he lived in Eagle, Lincolnshire, this looked like a match. Having a closer look at the census page, James and Elizabeth’s twin sons Walter and George Henry were born in Eagle in 1870.

It turned out it was only a short message:

Stamford Mercury – Friday 1st April 1870


I, JAMES BAINES, hereby give Notice, that I will not be answerable for any Debt or Debts that my Wife, ELIZABETH BAINES, may contract after this notice. JAMES BAINES, Eagle, his Mark x.


His second wife was named Elizabeth, and it appears the witness was a neighbour, or at least lived fairly nearby – there is a George Stephenson on the following census page.

It seems this isn’t particularly unusual, entering the phrase “not be answerable for any Debt or Debts” into Google brings up several newspaper transcriptions from the 1800’s, many of them on genealogy websites.

I wonder what exactly led to James putting this notice in a newspaper? Has anyone come across a notice like this before?

My great great great great grandfather James Baines was born in North Clifton, Nottinghamshire in the 1820’s. He can be found on the 1851 census living with his parents, John and Ann, in North Clifton, where he worked as a Blacksmith. By the 1861 census he was a widow and lived with his brother and family in Newark. His son William, my great great great grandfather, was living with his grandparents, James’ parents John and Ann, in North Clifton.

Ten years later, in 1871, James can be found living with his second wife and their three children in Eagle, Lincolnshire. In the same year William was living in North Clifton with his widowed grandmother Ann.

On Christmas Day 1876 William married Mary Ann Duckworth in St Leonard’s Church, Newark. On his marriage certificate his father James was recorded as deceased – yet over 30 years later, in 1911, James, now 88 years old and a widower, was living with William and his family!

On previous census records, 1881, 1891 and 1901, James lived with his family in Swinderby, Lincolnshire.

When William was living with his grandparents, did he know his father? What happened to Williams mother, why did she die at a young age (I believe her name may have been Elizabeth, but I’ve not been able to confirm this). Was William lying on his marriage certificate, or was he always told his father had died? Perhaps he had a reason for wanting nothing to do with his father?

There’s a story to this – but perhaps we’ll never know the truth.

Using and, I have traced my direct Hamilton line back to Thomas Hamilton and Marion Tudhope, who were born in the late 1740’s. There is more information on my great grandfather and my Scottish ancestors on my family history website,

I began the research with some information e-mailed to me from a fairly close relative. It mentioned my great-grandfather, James Hamilton, was born in Hamilton or Armadale, Scotland, in 1903 (although I later found he was actually born in 1902) and had two sisters, “M. Black and P. Rankin.” who “Emigrated to New Zealand approx. 1937”. I was also sent a scan of my great-uncle’s birth certificate.

I ordered a copy of my great grandparents marriage certificate, which would hopefully give James’ fathers name.

James married Florence Dolman in 1928 in Shotton, Flintshire, Wales. The certificate revealed James’ father was Andrew Hamilton, a gardener – not too surprising, given the Scottish naming patterns, as my grandfather was also named Andrew.

Through more research on Scotland’s People, I found James did have a sister “M. Black” – Margaret Thornton Gray Hamilton married Duncan Black in 1926. His other sister was Janet Fleming Hamilton, who in 1928 married William Dunn. Their father Andrew was a gardener, later worked as a confectioner, before returning to gardening later on in his life. A family tree I found on belonged to a descendent of Margaret and Duncan Black – and this confirmed they had left Scotland for New Zealand – although it was a few years earlier than 1937.

The last piece of evidence confirmed I had definitely found the correct family – through finding James’ parents Andrew and Margaret’s death certificates, I found they were living at 8 Woodside Walk, Hamilton, Lanarkshire, in the early 1930’s. This was the address on my great uncle’s birth certificate, it explained why he was born in Scotland – James must have returned to Scotland to help look after his parents. His mother died in 1932 at 8 Woodside Walk, and James was the informant on her death certificate. He recorded his address as “Oaklands, Weaver Avenue, Rhyl, North Wales”. His father Andrew died in 1933, less than 3 months after my great uncle was born.

While I’ve discovered plenty of information, there are a few mysteries I haven’t been able to solve.

My great aunt, who married my grandfathers other brother, told me about a plaque they had and kindly sent it down to me:



With all the detail on Scottish birth, marriage and death certificates, along with the census records, I’ve found no information to suggest ancestors on the Hamilton side ever lived or worked in Glasgow. Who were James Hamilton & Sons dairy engineers? Are they related, and if so, how? If they aren’t related, why did my great uncle have the plaque?

My great aunt also told me a story which led to another mystery I’d like to solve. She said they had their honeymoon in Scotland (in the 1950’s), and they met James’ nephew, who was also called James Hamilton. He was a butcher and lived in Harthill. Going on my research, James wouldn’t have a nephew named James Hamilton – he had two sisters who were both married, one of them who had left for New Zealand about 25 years earlier.

However James’ father Andrew did have four brothers – three of which married and had children. Maybe this butcher in Harthill was James’ cousins son, nephew would have been easier to say than “first cousin once removed”! Alternatively I suppose it’s possible that the butcher was a son of James’ sister Janet?

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