52 Ancestors: Out of Place

I wasn’t sure that I had a family history story that met this week’s theme … until I started to review my Holborow ONS entries for the 1851 census and realised I’d missed an entire spelling variant in my search! And – as usual – the Holborows (or Holbrows in this instance) managed to come up trumps – and drive me right round the buggering twist!

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …

Searching the 1851 census for the Holbrow variant primarily gave me the usual suspects: Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Kent, Suffolk, London. So far, so expected. Then there was a family group living in Church Hulme in Cheshire. Definitely a new one on me. The only adult in the household was Elizabeth, listed as Head’s Wife – and recorded as married. Who was her husband and where was he?

Further research showed he was back at home in 1861, and was Thomas Holb(o)row, born around 1815 in Nettleton, Wiltshire. The GRO index had given me Elizabeth’s maiden name (Malone) and I was able to track down their marriage to 1840 in Lymm – Elizabeth’s home parish. Ticking all the boxes. I wasn’t sure what had prompted Thomas’ move from Wiltshire to Cheshire – but as with all things it was no doubt down to money and/or opportunity. Perhaps he was heading to Manchester and didn’t quite make it …? But in 1841 he is recorded as a Male Servant at Wythenshawe Hall in Altrincham, living in/above the stables. Elizabeth and their eldest child – also Thomas – are living with her parents in Lymm.

It wasn’t until I came to plug these newcomers into my Holborow master tree that I realised something was awfully amiss – I already had a Thomas (b. c. 1815 Nettleton) in my tree – and he was already married with children! Time to do some unpicking!

Firstly, how sure was I that Thomas was born in Nettleton? Well, all the census returns he was on seemed to agree on this fact, and that he was born around 1815, which matched a baptism for a Thomas in Nettleton, Wiltshire, in 1815, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth. Were there more than one baptised +/- 5 years? Nope. Just the one.

Secondly, was it possible that Thomas had married twice? Seemingly not, the children’s dates of birth overlapped.

What else did I know about this Thomas in my tree? Well, I had him down as marrying Catherine Ricketts/Rickards in May 1850 in Horsley, Gloucestershire. (Catherine appears as Caroline in every single record other than her marriage so I suspect some mispelling/misrecording has gone on!). This Thomas has a neat trick, in every census return I’ve found him in, his age and place of birth changes: 1851 its 1821/Castle Combe (Wiltshire); 1861 its 1820/Wotton under Edge (Gloucestershire); 1871 its 1813/Unknown; 1881 its 1815/West Kington (Wiltshire). His age at death (recorded by his wife) gives an approximate year of birth of 1813. In all census returns (and burial, and marriage) he is in Horsley, Gloucestershire.

But neither of these matches the 1815 Nettleton date (although Nettleton is only a little over a mile away and the neighbouring parish to West Kington and being baptised at c. 2 years old is not unheard of).

I then found his marriage certificate to Catherine which put the final nail in the coffin:

On the marriage certificate, Thomas’ father’s information is left blank. This implies heavily that Thomas was illegitimate (of course, his father could have died when he was young and he was bought up by a stepfather). Looking into the witnesses – William and Mary – was of no help. They were actually the next couple to be married in Horsley and researching their families back 3 generations shows no links to any known Holbrow lines.

Cheshire Thomas was definitely the one baptised in Nettleton with two (married) parents named on the record. But who was Horsley Thomas? Where did he fit in? Was there, perhaps, another baptism that I had overlooked? And where was Horsley Thomas in 1841?

It turned out that there was a baptism I had ‘overlooked’ but it only added to the confusion.

Avening is a parish located about 2.75 miles due east of Horsley – but due to local geography its about a 4 mile trip by road between them.

I mention Avening because it was here in 1815 that another Thomas was baptised. Could this be our mystery man? Well, no … his baptism shows he was the son of William and Sarah (nee Smith). This Thomas married twice – and his own baptism has him recorded as William, but subsequent records make it clear that William and Sarah only had one son called William, who was born much later. In the parish register, it seems that the clerk/rector got a bit name blind with the Williams!

This Thomas spent the vast majority of his life in Avening, dying there in 1893.

Needless to say there are no potential Thomas Holbrow’s baptised in Castle Combe, West Kington or Wotton-under-Edge, nor their neighbouring parishes.

There is a possibility that this Avening line might hold a clue, but this is based on nothing more than happenstance. Avening Thomas had two aunts: Elizabeth and Maria. Elizabeth was baptised in 1788 and Maria in 1793: this would have put them at good ages to have an illegitimate son around 1813 with Maria more likely, perhaps. In 1841 Maria and her husband, Leonard Smith, are living in Stroud, having married in Minchinampton. Horsley Thomas is nowhere to be seen. However, Maria and Leonard name one of their sons Thomas in 1837, perhaps putting the kybosh on this theory.

A 50 year old Elizabeth Holbrow is buried in Avening in 1823, making her 15 years too old to be Avening Thomas’ aunt, but a marriage for this aunt is hard to track down with certainty given the sheer number of Elizabeth Holb(o)rows that are scattered across the Gloucestershire scarp.

Until I can find Horsley Thomas in the 1841 census where he will – hopefully, but you know he won’t – be living with or near his mother and/or extended family then Thomas will remain a Holborow out of place.

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