As a genealogist we all have that one elusive ancestor that along the journey of finding their ancestors the record trail runs dry and we are faced with a genealogy brickwall. Where you can’t pin point the parents, sometimes the siblings, and it appears that they landed on earth by aliens and the lives before them are just a mystery.
With ever increasing vital records and other datasets becoming available, after years of researching, wondering and frustration, you can come across that record that all of sudden puts a dint in that brickwall. We all just need to be patient, have a well documented research plan, log and paper trail of both primary and secondary (if you can find them) records to find that mystery ancestor that has been bugging you for years.
My ancestors unlike other families have presented me with several brickwalls, where it appears that they just mysteriously came to be somewhere with no record trail of where they had been prior to that first vital record being found.
Through the writing of my family history it has allowed me to review records I do have with fresh eyes. By reviewing these I have found it helps to uncover that one little clue that has the potential to break down a brickwall or at least rattle a few bricks loose.
William Cramp and Miriam Freer (Watts) were my third great grandparents in my grandfather’s maternal line. Their lives turned up not just a brickwall related to the parentage of William but also presented a multitude of inconsistencies, challenges and frustrations in the records I discovered for the couple.
In this blog, Ancestor Detective (me), will take you through the lives of William and Miriam and discusses both the challenges and how I overcome these challenges and hopefully smash down that elusive brickwall of William’s parentage. This blog will start with the records found, will present the challenges and issues with the records and then will go on to discuss how further records uncovered started to bring down that big brickwall.
I was researching my second great grandfather, Edward John Cramp, when his parentage started to appear as hints in my Ancestry.com family tree. At the time I had learnt from experience not to take hints on Ancestry on face value. Hints from other members trees were often dates of vital events (birth, deaths or marriage) occurring with no source attached and hints could often be for someone of the same name but not your ancestor.
Edward was born on the 16 January 1854 in Upper Sturt, Adelaide, South Australia William Cramp and Miriam Watts. What was rare about this record of birth was the index had recorded the actual date of birth and not just the year which was usually the case.
Initially my research for the vital records of William pointed me towards a baptism of a William Cramp on 29 June 1813 in Quorndon, Leicester, England. His parents were recorded as Henry Cramp and Elizabeth (no surname provided). From other family trees on Ancestry, this seemed to be the William I was looking for.
I started building Wiliam’s family tree based on the premise that his parents were Henry Cramp and Elizabeth Fox. I found that they had quiet a few children and this was where I started to wonder if this could be my ancestor. I came to this conclusion when reviewing their dates of birth and what I reaslised was that it was impossible for William to be born into this family in 1813, with another record for their son, Charles, showing his date of birth just months after William’s birth, which unless they were twins or their mother had some kind of miracle pregnancy, it made it impossible for them both to be the sons of Henry and Elizabeth.
With many William Cramp’s in England at the time, I started researching Miriam Watts and like her husband I started to face some challenges. Based on the age of her children I through she would have been born in about 1826 but finding a vital record to confirm this was not an easy process.
I was finding it difficult to locate a registration of marriage in England for William and Miriam and with no records apart from the birth of Edward John, I refocused my research to Miriam before their marriage. I started with the England and Wales census, and it was here that I found a Miriam Watts, aged 14 years, in the 1841 census living with a John Watts, his wife Ann and a son, Pharash (record corrected to Pharoah), aged 5 years. Despite John and Ann seeming too old, at age 55 years, to be the parents of Miriam and Pharash, I assumed that this was her family.
The next census record I found for Miriam was in 1851 where she is married to William and both recorded as being 24 years old. Based on the 1841 census, 24 years would have been correct for Miriam, assuming that the enumerator had not rounded up or rounded down her age by five years, which was common practice. All of a sudden though, William was now also 24, despite the baptism record showing he was born in 1813, meaning that his age should have been 38 years old.
Was William Cramp lying about his age so he could marry Miriam with her father’s consent? What did John and Ann think of Miriam marrying a man nearly 15 years her senior?
I wondered what Miriam’s parents thought of her marrying someone who was so much older, but recognised that during the 1800’s marriage was not always based on love but a father’s consent and in some cases, certainly who he chose his daughter to marry.
With the census in 1851 recording Miriam’s place of birth as Castle Donington, I thought this was a good place to start to find her birth record. I searched using the birth year 1826 and location Castle Donington. Several Miriam Watts were uncovered in Ancestry, but there was not match based on what I knew so far. The same results appeared in FamilySearch and Find My Past.
The other record I had was the record in the 1841 census for Pharash (Pharoah) then aged five years. I thought if I could find a record of his baptism then it might be easier to find Miriam’s, assuming they were baptised in the same church. This didn’t lead to anything helpful apart from additional census records for his household.
Why on earth was it so hard to find a baptism record for both Miriam and Parash (Pharoah)?
I had learnt from researching my second great grandfather, James Robinson, whose birth/baptism and family was also a mystery for some time. I found it useful researching James that researching from their date of death, if known, and working backwards often uncovered clues of their early life. I started this approach with both William and Miriam.
From the birth index of their son, I knew that by 1854 William and Miriam were living in South Australia. This record linked me to another for William, which was of his death in Adelaide, South Australia on 19 January 1878. The record told me he was aged 56 years old at the time of his death, with his year of birth recorded as ‘abt. 1822’. This was another year of birth for William, in addition to the baptism record saying 1813 and the 1851 census recording it as 1826. It was becoming more apparent that William may not have known his actual date of birth at all or he wasn’t a very good lier!
I ordered William’s registration of death, surely this would provide more details. I knew that most records of death showed birth details and the names of parents. I was soon to learn that assuming I would uncover where William was born and to whom, was not going to be as easy as reading his death certificate.
Apart from learning the William Cramp died in the Adelaide Destitute Asylum from marasmus, a severe form of malnutrition, I learnt nothing else. Details I was hoping for, like birthplace, were not recorded! It appeared I had reached another dead end in finding out more of William’s life before marrying Miriam.
What did family trees created by others listing Edward John Cramp provide any additional clues of William and Miriam?
As much as I had learnt long ago not to take other family trees as gospel, I thought I would start reviewing those trees that had William and Miriam in common.
Initially I noticed two things; other trees were adding ‘Freer’ to Miriam’s surname, William had the middle name of ‘Henry’ and they had two additional sons, Charles and Frederick. New clues for me to explore! The middle name of Henry made sense if the birth record I had found was correct and his father was in fact Henry Cramp but the name Freer was a mystery so far.
I started messaging a few members of Ancestry.com who had William or Miriam in their family trees hoping they could provide more information to the endless list of questions I had on the couple.
One member messaged me explaining her relationship to William and Miriam and we emailed back and forth discussing the conflicting information to try and find more answers. Between us we still had so many unanswered questions and it appeared other members were unable to help……
What was the relationship of ‘Freer’ to Miriam? All records to date showed her name as Miriam Watts……
I began researching the connection to ‘Freer’ and Miriam and discovered that a lot of family tress had named Miriam as Miriam Watts (Freer) or Miriam Watts Freer. I ran a search on Ancestry.com using the name Miriam Freer and came across a baptism record from 1836 in Quorndon, Leicester recording this Miriam’s father as Frederich Freer and her mother Eliza (no surname recorded).
I drew two conclusions from this record; if this was my Miriam her parents weren’t John and Ann Watts and this made Miriam considerably younger than William, a lot younger than the first records indicated if William was born in 1813. It would mean that Miriam would have been 10 years old when she married. Anything was possible in the 1800’s when it came to marriage but this seemed unlikely.
Ancestry.com and FamilySearch could not help with any other information on this Miriam’s baptism in 1836. However, I discovered more when I went to Find My Past and found the baptism transcription with the same baptism date and also showed no record for her year of birth. I often wonder how the same record can have so many different details between databases holding these records!
In the same Find My Past search I found another record for this Miriam’s baptism, not a transcription but the original baptism record from the Anglican church in Quorndon, Leicestershire. One of the first things I noticed was there were several children baptised in January and February for the Watts family, this included Parash (Phoroah). Further down the page though was a baptism for a Miriam Freer on 14 February 1836 the daughter of Frederick and Eliza Freer in Quorndon. It also showed that the parents of Pharash was not John and Ann either, but recorded as the son of Cleophas and Hannah Watts in Quorndon.
Was Miriam the daughter of Frederick and Eliza Freer but living with John and Ann Watts? and if this is the case, why was she and Pharash living with John and Ann Watts?
While one record of the Leicestershire Baptism record transcription recorded this Miriam’s birth year as 1836, this was not possible as the 1841 census recorded Miriam Watts as aged 14 years old, meaning she was likely born in 1826. Further searches did not turn up any records of birth for Miriam to confirm who her parents were. To verify that Miriam Freer was my Miriam Watts, I required another vital record to confirm that her parents were Frederick and Eliza.
I continued searching in Find My Past for another vital record for Miriam and discovered not just the transcript of a Leicestershire Marriage but also the original church record in the Church of Quorndon. The marriage was between William Cramp and Miriam Watts on 15 December 1846. The record showed that at the time of her marriage she was a ‘minor’, meaning she was under 21 years of age. The couple’s father’s were recorded as Frederick Freer and Edward Cramp.
This second vital record confirmed for me that Miriam was the daughter of Frederick Freer and not John Watts. It also showed that if Miriam was a minor at the time of her marriage then she would have been born between 1825 and 1828. This record also provided the first clue as to who William’s parents might be, showing that William’s father was Edward Cramp.
In part 2 of the breaking down the brickwall into William Cramp, Ancestor Detective, researches the new clue that recorded William’s father to be one Edward Cramp. Ancestor Detective will discuss how she eliminates several Edward Cramp’s and how she ends up identifying William’s parents and family. Every brickwall can be broken down, no matter how slowly, it just takes patience, continued review of records and looking at ways to verify or discount new records.
Birth Index. Australia. Victoria. 16 January 1854. CRAMP, Edward. Australia, Birth Index 1788 – 1922.
England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, CRAMP, William, 29 Jun 1813. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
1841 England Census, Civil Parish: Barrow Upon Soar; County: Leicestershire; Enumeration District: 4; Class: HO107; Piece: 594; Book: 8; Folio: 6; Page: 7; Line: 3; GSU roll: 438744
1851 England Census, Civil Parish: Quorndon; County: Leicestershire, Class: HO107; Piece: 2087; Folio: 230; Page: 19; GSU roll: 87714-87715
FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index 837-1915, Miriam Watts and William Cramp, 1846, 1 UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.
Death Index, Australia, South Australia. 19 Jan 1978. CRAMP, William. Australia, Death Index 1787 – 1985.
England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, Miriam Freer. Find My Past.
Record Transcription, England, Births & Baptisms, 1538 – 1975, Miriam Freer,
Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland, Leicestershire Baptisms, 1836, Miriam Freer. Find My Past.
Record Transcription. Leicestershire Marriages, Miriam Watts and William Cramp, 1846. Find My Past.
Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland, Leicestershire Marriages, 1836, Miriam Watts and William Cramp. Find My Past.