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Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Finding Harriet's First Marriage - A Research Tale

A tale of  a young widow, leaving her two small children  with relatives to work in a girl's boarding school as a resident cook - and within a year of widowhood  marrying my great great grandfather, eighteen years her senior.  This is how I unraveled her story - and along the way found myself on a false trail. 

In January 1881 my great great grandmother Anne Walker died - the first wife  of Thomas Weston (1826-1917), a bricklayer. Both were from Worfield  in Shropshire, later living in Pattingtham in the adjacent county of Staffordshire. Three of their seven children were still living at home at the time of their mother’s death - Alfred, 15, Richard 13 and Annie 7.  

Ironbridge, Wharfage, Telford
 The River Severn, flowing through Shropshire
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Yet by the autumn of the same year 1881,   Thomas had married again - his new wife  a young  widow, Harriet Edwards,  born in a neighbour Shropshire village. Harriet was eighteen  years his junior with a young son  John Edwards joining the Weston household.   At the age of 54, Thomas became a father again with a new son,  Thomas. 

I was intrigued to find out more about Harriet and her first husband, but the trail was not as easy as it first seemed - not helped by me following a false lead.

My Research Story  
I did find a probable  entry for a Harriet Edwards in the 1881 census, where she was a cook in what seemed to  be a small boarding school in Pattingham  - this in itself was interesting,  with the school of 15 girls  aged from 7 to 15, a principal  with her three daughters, aged 22, 21 and 19  as governesses,  plus  a French governess, and another servant in the household.

I am fully aware of all the  reservations about using online Public Trees because of notorious inaccuracies, but I do look at them, as they can be useful in giving clues to lines of research.  Yet that is the line I stupidly went down, with this particular tree which gave Harriet's maiden name as Taylor, and her  first marriage  to a John Edwards, who died c.1880 after the  the birth of two children Maria and John.  

The only sources given on the tree  related to Harriet's second marriage to my great, great grandfather, so I set out to find the evidence of her earlier life, using Ancestry and Free BMD.  But I got completely bogged down  in a myriad of Edwards and Taylors and nothing seemed to add up. I could find nothing on a Harriet Taylor married to a John Edwards.

I eventually put a query on the Facebook page of Genealogy Addicts  - and was very quickly informed, with evidence  I was totally on the  wrong track!! 

The True Findings
Harriet was born 1844,  father Josiah Wood;  had married a Thomas Edwards in 1867  and had two children, Maria and John - facts I had come across in my initial searches, but discounted - I was so fixated on the Taylor connection.  Husband Thomas  died in 1880, leaving  Harriet a widow with her children aged just two and five years old. 

So where in 1881 were John and Maria,  when Harriet was working in the boarding school?  A search for them in the 1881 census found the children,with their uncle John Edwards, a bricklayer labourer and his wife Maria in Tettenhall, Staffordshire.   But also in the household was a Thomas Taylor aged 77 and agricultural labourer and described in the census as "father" - should that really be "father-in law"?   I did find  a census entry for him which suggested this. At this point I gave up following this distant sideline of my ancestral history. 

Postscript:  In the 1891 census, young John Edwards was back with his mother Harriet  and his step father Thomas Weston - with no sign of his sister Maria, who could be the Maria Edwards found  as a servant in a Shropshire household.

Not my finest research hour - I should have made far more use of the GRO website to confirm  the  basic facts about Harriet.   So a lesson for the future and further reservations about the value of public trees. We never stop learning when it comes to family histoy! 



  1. Another intriguing story which illustrates the importance of careful research and keeping an open mind...

  2. Thank you for your kind comment, and yes it was a salutary lesson, but an interesting story!


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