Of Hicks and Half-Truths

Lately I’ve been going over my old research and either adding to it, solving the odd mystery or just plain correcting mistakes. Some of those mistakes were mine to make, but some were inherited – although the onus is still on me (and all of us) to check the veracity of this borrowed information. One such mistake has been my focus this week, up in the Wiltshire / Gloucestershire borders.

No, I’m not back on my Halliday kick, but it is connected with my Holborow family (of course!). My two times great-grandparents here are Joseph Holborow and Mary Teagle. Joseph was born in Sherston Magna, Wiltshire in 1869, and married Mary in Malmesbury Register Office (whether Mary being five months pregnant at the time had anything to do with the choice of venue, I can’t say …). Mary herself was born in 1870 in Sopworth, Wiltshire.

1890s Ordnance Survey map of Sopworth, via Wiltshire Council

She was the daughter of a stonemason, Giles Teagle, and his first wife, Charlotte Hicks. Mary was one of 11 children of this marriage (Giles would later remarry following Charlotte’s death, although he had no further children) and as the second eldest daughter no doubt spent a lot of time in domestic duties. Giles and Charlotte married on May Day 1869 in Didmarton, Gloucesthershire, with Charlotte listed as “under age” as she was only 20 at the time, and not the 21 that would have made her “full age”.

Marriage certificate of Giles Teagle and Charlotte Hicks
via Ancecstry.com/Gloucestershire Archives

I have a good handle on the Teagle family (variously spelt Teakle, Tagle or Tackle), but I wanted to take a look at Charlotte’s family. And this is where the problem occurred.

I had inherited the fact that Charlotte was the daughter of James Hicks and his first wife, Kesia Niblett. This introduced the first note of confusion – on her marriage certificate, she gives her father as John Hicks. So where had James come from? This seemed to be based on her 1861 census entry. She is listed as “granddaughter” of the head of the household, Sarah Hicks, widow. Also in the household are two of Sarah’s children, James (widower) and John (unmarried), and four grandchildren, Sharlott [sic], Emma, Fred and Mary. This would seem to be our Charlotte – and prior researchers had assumed that she was, in fact, the daughter of a man who had at least been married rather than the one who hadn’t.

Looking more closely at James, we can see that he had two daughters with his wife, Kesia: Emma and Mary. And why would she give her father as John, if she was living with James and her “siblings”? Perhaps the 1851 census would shed new light on things …

Here, she is still in Sopworth, living with her grandparents, John and Sarah. The household also contains various uncles and aunts: Mary Anah [sic], Stephen and John. This is where things become clearer. Might Charlotte not be the illegitimate daughter of this Mary Hannah? She might, and either her birth certificate or baptismal entry would confirm this. And thank you to Wiltshire Council for digitising their collections (not that I live far from their archive in Chippenham, but still!).

Right year, right parish, it can only be our Charlotte. With her mother: Sarah Anne Hicks. (Don’t worry – we’ll be seeing more of Mary and the other Hicks’ at a later date!) As for Sarah, there is a baptism in Sopworth in 1820 for a Sarah Ann, daughter of John and Sarah Hickes, which would place her in the right family. This is further confirmed by Sarah’s marriage to Charles Horton in 1857 which lists her father as John Hicks (although, as we have seen, this needn’t be treated as fact …!). Through this marriage, Charlotte had three half-siblings (a fourth died aged two). I don’t know how close these families were, but a Horton appears as a witness to her marriage to Giles.

In my estimation, Charlotte used John’s name for two reasons: firstly, to cover the stigma of being illegitimate, and secondly that she had been raised by her grandfather, John, until she was 11.

However, this is a clear example of how performing your own research can alter the path of your research. I had faithfully copied down what I had been given, and although it changes little in the Hicks line, I have now had to delete (and rightly so) all of the Niblett line (i.e. James’ wife) that had been researched for no reason.

It’s ok to make targeted assumptions where the evidence leads us in a distinct direction – but where these assumptions are challenged by documentation then it’s on us as researchers to be honest and plug in the correct information. After all, it does us no good to have trees filled with half-truths or out-and-out fabrications. So follow the records and not necessarily the path that’s given to you. Unless it’s from me …

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