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Thursday, 30 August 2012

A Quorum of Q's - A to Z Challenge

I am enjoying participating in this series from Aona at http://www.gouldgenealogy.com/2012/05/take-the-family-history-through-the-alphabet-

Q if for:

Questions, Queries and Quandaries at the heart of our family history research. So many avenues are open to us now, beyond the traditional local and family history society magazine pages, with online message boards, social network sites etc.

We can  generally find out the "who, where, and when" about our ancestor's lives, but the "why" remains a mystery and we can only hazard a guess as to motives.  

Why was 6 year old John Robert Donaldson left behind when his parents moved 350 miles south?
John was born in 1854, the son of Robert Donaldson, a shipwright, and Isabella Walton of South Shields, a town on the north east coast of England, dominated by the sea and maritime activity. An obvious next step in research was to find the family in the 1861 Census, but frustratingly, in the days before online records, this proved impossible to trace. Yet all the indications were that direct Donaldson descendants had remained in South Shields down the generations.

It was only much later the opportunity to do national searches online revealed that by 1861 Robert and Isabella were at Portsea in Portsmouth on the south coast of England. With them were two young sons Thomas, aged 4, born South Shields and one year old Frederick W. (Walton perhaps after Isabella's maiden name?) born at Portsea, indicating a move c.1857-1860. But there was no mention of their eldest son, John who would have been 6 years old. 

How had the family travelled 350 miles from South Shields to Portsea, by rail or more likely by sea? Was work the reason, with Robert now employed at Her Majesty's Dockyard as a shipwright? Why was John not with them? 
Back in South Shields, I returned to the 1861 census and found John's maternal grandparents, John and Hannah Walton, with the household also including their grandson John Robert Walton aged 6. This must be "my" John Robert Donaldson, mistakenly recorded in the census with the wrong surname. An entry in the 1871 census gave further confirmation - a John Donaldson, aged 16, born c.1855 was living at the home of his maternal uncle Robert Walton. Death records showed that John must have lost his grandparents (and his home) in 1868.
Eight year later John married Jane Elizabeth Rushton. and they had four sons - John Robert, Henry, Thomas, Frederick and one daughter Isabella. Interestingly these names echoed those of his siblings in Portsmouth. For Robert and Isabella had more children, making a family of Thomas, Fredrick, Henry, Robert, Charles, Isabella and Alfred.

The fact that John retained the name of his father and mother for his eldest son and daughter suggests that the split had been amicable. One cannot help wonder did the two families ever meet again.

Why was my great grandmother, who was named Maria on her birth certificate, noted as  Martha M.   in later official records, including her marriage certificate?
Maria was only 4 years old when her baby sister Martha died, so could hardly have remembered her, but did she, for some reason, adopt her name as her own?  

Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe (1859-1919)
with her only daughter Jennie (after 8 surviving sons)
and granddaughter Annie Maria.

Why did Maria's sister Alice and family (husband John Mason, a general labourer,  and six children under 11 years old)  emigrate  from Fleetwood , a fishing town in Lancashire to Brooklyn, New York in 1886-7. 

Alice and John Mason and their eight surviving children c.1920's

Why cannot I trace the birth certificate of my grandmother Alice English, born c.1884 in Bolton, Lancashire?   


These Questions remain mysteries and I may never know the answers - another factor that makes family history so absorbing.

I am still on the Quest - and not for Quitting.



  1. Good to see you are a determined soul too and not quitting on this quest :-) I found your questions very interesting. John being left behind seemed particularly odd...was he perhaps illegitimate? As you say all the questions and ancestral motives do leave us in a quandary. The motives are particularly niggling yet we can only hazard a guess.

  2. It's believe that it is the questions (albeit frustrating at times) that keep us going. And the excitement of a find which answers one of those questions is just the best!!! All the best with your continued research, and I'm sure in time you'll answer all of your queries.


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