Dave Annal’s talk, “Lying Bastards”: the impact of illegitimacy on the records that our ancestors leave behind at the Register of Qualified Genealogists conference last month (September 2021), has stimulated me to tell the story of Maria Lown’s illegitimate children.
1815. December 9
Betsey Makeman bastard daughter of Maria the Widow of William Lown, who was a Farmer living in the Fields below the Town. She lives in a small House in the low Fields. This woman’s moral depravity is so great, that she prefers living in a state of Adultery with one Wm Makeman, to a state of Matrimony with the same Man!!Baptism Register. Whaplode, Lincolnshire. Findmypast
1817 April 17th
William bastard son of Maria Lown a widow, A Prostitute. Town
VIDE Dec 29th 1815 [Dec 9th]. NB. This abandoned woman might be Married but will not ! The Banns of Marriage have been published, but she prefers a state of Prostitution! Remarking or having remarked, that She is already a Whore; & can be no worse. Therefore, will even remain as she is!!! Sic malimores pravalebunt!!! She submitted to be Married in August following
S Oliver curateBaptism Register. Whaplode, Lincolnshire. Findmypast
Given these comments what might you expect Maria’s background to be like? Do you think she was accurately described? Are you imagining her response was a potty mouthed torrent? Has pity for a poor widow stirred you? It is hard not to react to these entries, but let’s take a step back and look at the circumstances more closely.
Maria Copeland married William Lown in 1799. She was his second wife, so became stepmother to his two children, Ann, and William, from his first marriage with Sarah Watson. Maria and William Lown went on to have six children between 1800 and 1807, namely William, Moriah, Elizabeth, Snelson, Ann and Robert Snelson. William Lown died in 1812 and was buried at Holbeach, a neighbouring parish. There are no burials for any of the children indexed prior to his death, so I’m working on the basis that they had all survived to 1812.
So, at the time of becoming a widow, Maria had up to eight children to support.
Rapid remarriage, or the alternative of forming a joint household without marriage, is widely cited as an economic necessity for many widows. Does it apply to Maria?
The 1815 baptism above identifies William Lown as a farmer and residence at “Fields below the Town”. The occupation is a clue that William Lown may have owned or rented land. I have not investigated land holdings in Whaplode, but he is in the manorial property records in neighbouring Moulton.
William Lown bought a copyhold plot of 6 acres 36 perches, consisting of two fields with a messuage (house) and outbuildings, in 1805 in the Manor of Moulton Harrington, located on the former common near the hamlet of Seas End. It is about 3 miles north of Whaplode village centre. All records of the Lown family place their residence in Whaplode, which suggests that at least the house in Moulton and possibly the whole holding was rented out.
Why would a widow resist remarriage?
As a second wife, Maria was vulnerable to inheritance under primogenitor, which would have left real property to William Lown’s eldest son (aged 18). Furthermore, she was potentially vulnerable due to customs of local manors that removed dower rights. As a widow, Maria may have gained control of assets through guardianship of her children (eldest aged 12) and stepchildren (eldest aged 21).
William Lown did not leave Maria helpless. He made a will appointing her as executrix, so she had control of the Lown family property. I have not yet accessed the will at Lincolnshire Archives due to the pandemic, so don’t know the value of his estate. It does not seem that Maria would have needed to remarry through necessity straight away.
Social status is another possible reason for Maria Lown’s reluctance to re-marry. She had been a farmer’s wife. William Makeman was of lower status. The baptisms of William Makeman’s legitimate children display an advancement in his status from labourer (1818), to horseman (1819, 1822) and then cottager (1825, 1826).
What happened to the illegitimate children?
William died on 21 September 1817, just 5 months old and less than 2 months after his parents married. None-the-less curate Samuel Oliver continued his commentary in the same vein.
1817 Sept 21
William Bastard son of the Widow, Maria Lown, A prostituteBurial Register. Whaplode, Lincolnshire. Findmypast
Betsy was acknowledged by her father and was named Betsy Makeman when she married in 1839. She married James Cooley, schoolmaster of Moulton, son of John Cooley, a farmer. This was a good match as I know from my research of the Moulton manors that the Cooley family were significant landowners. The marriage was performed by the same curate, Samuel Oliver, but without any commentary.
Why were the curate’s comments so vitriolic?
Samuel Oliver did not comment on every illegitimate birth beyond use of the term ‘illegitimate’. In the 3 years between 1815 and 1817, there were 11 baptisms of illegitimate children out of a total of 170. Apart from Maria, one other person was the subject of vitriolic comment, this time a man who had child with another woman having abandoned his wife
Maria certainly answered back. Was there dose of misogyny in his reaction? Did he think a farmer’s wife should behave differently? Did he fear that Maria might become dependent on the parish if she did not remarry?
When I acquired the Bill Lawrence collection on New Year’s Eve, I was taken by surprise. I wanted to ask questions, so I whipped out my phone and started recording to capture information. I find that when making notes with pen and paper, I always miss chunks of information, especially at family gatherings where there are many distractions.
Audio recording is not a quick short-cut. It takes a lot longer to make sense of a recording than of written notes. The environment in which this recording was made was less than ideal. There are multiple simultaneous conversations, and the conversation wandered off topic to take-away orders and gossip that might be libelous if repeated here. In a recording of 33 minutes, just over 7 minutes relate to Bill’s collection and life.
So, I needed to extract the relevant parts and transcribe them. Stories Matter is free open source software built for oral history. It includes audio clipping and basic transcription functions.
Listening to yourself asking questions can be revealing. I had not realized that I interrupted Gill a couple of times, which probably limited the information she was giving me. In the following clip, I was good and just listened:
How much of that did you get? I have the advantage of having been present and knowing the voices of my parents, aunts and uncle. Here is the transcript:
GILL: That school that Bill went to, Ron, d’you remember Gilbert Harding?
GILL: He was at the same school
VAL: At the same time?
DOROTHY: Uncle Harry was as well, wasn’t he?
[talking over one another]
DOROTHY: Not at the same time
GILL: Cuz I remember them talking..
DOROTHY: Oh, I thought it was called an orphanage, because it was for children who had lost a parent or..
GILL: Yeah, but it wasn’t in the sort of normal way, every kid had lost both parents
DOROTHY: No, no, it was a school, but it was a boarding school, and they took in children that had lost parents
GILL: Yeah, and err.. Cuz, apparently when she [Bill’s mother] came back here her brothers said, you know, you must find some work to do and that, so she put Bill in there. But he was telling us and showing us this book and he was saying it was that bloody cold at night in this dormitory. An, you know, they used to get out of the dormitory at night. And the headmaster used to grow vegetables, so they’d go and pinch some carrots and eat ’em straight out of the ground, unwashed, cuz they were so hungry.
In just 1 minute and 16 seconds, this conversation raises a number of questions:
- Who was Gilbert Harding, and why should Ron remember him?
- What was the name of Bill’s school?
- Was it a school or orphanage? Why the confusion?
- Who was the ‘Uncle Harry’ who also attended the school?
- What book did Bill show when talking about his school?
With a little digging I have made progress on the first three questions, but will need to ask Dorothy and Gill for clarification on Uncle Harry and the book.
Gilbert Harding (1907-1960) was a radio and TV personality in the 1950s, which is why Ron remembered him. Gilbert attended the Royal Orphanage of Wolverhampton, also known as the Wolverhampton Orphan Asylum and the Royal Wolverhampton School at periods before and after his time there.
The school was open to children between the ages of 7 and 15 who had lost one or both parents. So, Bill, born in 1915, would have been an eligible age between 1922 and 1930, and Gilbert Harding between 1914 and 1922. So, Bill could only have been contemporary with Gilbert in 1922.
The Children’s Homes website gives insight into the social standing of children granted admission. Admission was granted to “orphans of professional men, principals engaged in agriculture, manufacture, commerce, or trade, or of mercantile or other clerks, or otherwise respectably descended”, but “orphans of journeymen, artisans, labourers, and domestic or agricultural servants, or child with a stepfather” were not eligible. The admission policy is not what we typically expect for an orphanage, which could account for the confusion over the status of the institution. It was both an orphanage and boarding school.
© Sue Adams 2016
Jill Ball’s recent hangout on air entitled Let’s get organised caused me pause and think. The question of how to organise the physical and digital ‘stuff’ we accumulate during genealogical research is a common one that elicits a wide variety of responses. This discussion revolved mainly around digital files.
The panellists broadly follow two patterns of file organisation, person oriented and source oriented. Person oriented systems typically arrange files in folders for surnames and individuals. Source oriented systems typically arrange files in folders for each source type. Some people also have place and project folders.
Retrieval strategies include using file naming conventions, tagging, assignment of unique file ids, indexes and spreadsheets. Panellists use Family Historian, Custodian, Evernote, Excel and coggle.it to help them keep track of the ‘stuff’.
In Provenance of a Personal Collection – Archival Accession, Arrangement and Description, I advocated recording source information in a hierarchical archival style catalogue. Archival catalogues typically arrange source items by the provenance and context of their creation and use, which is reflected in multiple levels of logical organisation. Storage is not necessarily the same as logical organisation.
Are Hierarchies Hard?
Genealogists create family trees. A family tree is a hierarchical branching structure where layers represent generations of ancestors. So, genealogists would readily adopt a source hierarchy, wouldn’t they? The discussion made it pretty plain that is not the case.
Jill advocates a flat digital file structure. Among the panellists who use a hierarchy of physical or digital folders, the number of levels is restricted to no more than 2 or 3.
Why do people find hierarchies difficult?
Navigation through hierarchy levels is hard to get your head around. I have been looking for a tool that helps means me draw hierarchical trees and visualise my catalogue structure. Thanks to Alex Daws’ suggestion I tried the mind mapping tool, coggle.it. My genealogical ‘stuff’ falls into the categories depicted:
For the interactive version follow this link:https://coggle.it/diagram/550aa664a7d032c23734a105/7e12c7b8433ffe43f86b5994f61abf9977f826ac312616349825bbda313db27a
I have included a selection of top level categories and expanded a few of them. On the right are the things I acquired from family and collaborators, and my personal documents. On the left are the things acquired from physical and digital archives.
The personal collections are organised by their provenance, the person from whom the items came. This visual representation makes it easy for me to see I have omitted a helpful relative, Pat (how ungrateful am I!). I have expanded the part Raymond’s collection which I discussed in Provenance of a Personal Collection. The sub-categories reflect the use (e.g. probate) and history (e.g. belonged to Winnie) of the items.
Complete collections can be organised without taking account of possible future additions. The branches colour coded in yellow are complete. Raymond and Mabel are deceased, and personal study projects relate to courses completed.
The personal collection labelled Sue is my own. It includes collections that were created by my own life, the types of things discussed in Fresh Starts, my genealogy business records named Family Folk, and the results of my research such as blog posts. The category named Genealogical Research Collection is my personal sin bin. It’s arrangement reflects my early attempts to organise things, and indirectly documents my development as a researcher. Rather than rearrange things I have documented the existing arrangements.
Digital and Physical Archives
The left side of the source tree depicts my understanding of the arrangement of things I accessed through archives. I have expanded the top levels for just one record, the marriage of Joseph Wilson and Elizabeth Wilson at Claverley in 1808, that I discussed in Three Wilson-Wilson marriages and the Family History Library Experience.
The original marriage register is held by Shropshire Archives and the archive catalogue entry includes the hierarchy that shows how the marriage register fits into the archive’s collections:
Notice that the top level is missing from the archival catalogue. Parishes are collected together in a group denoted by P or XP, but there is no catalogue entry for this group. Many archive catalogues could be made more user friendly by the inclusion of top level groups and a visual interface. This catalogue entry also refers to the microfiche copy of the registers.
I have followed the archive catalogue in my source tree, but added in the missing parish level and separated out the microfiche version. The Family History Library transcript and microfilm are arranged by call number and film number, a peculiarity of that institution.
Digital archives typically consist of an index or database that may reference a collection of digital images. Database entries are accessed via search functions. The arrangement of digital image collection is similar, but not identical, to the arrangement of physical archive in this case. Some digital image collections differ substantially from their physical counterparts.
In addition to the original, there are 6 different versions of the marriage record. They were derived from the original either directly or indirectly via several different copying processes, but that is hard to show on my source tree.
Citations and Source Identification
Traditionally many academic disciplines cited published and unpublished works in the form of a bibliographic citation, but only included the data they collected in summary form. In many disciplines it is now recognised that the academic paper alone is no longer sufficient and the underlying data also needs to be shared. How to Cite Datasets and Link to Publications explores the issues and makes proposals for scientific data sets. Citing genealogical sources is more similar to citing scientific data than to citing finished works.
Genealogists typically want to pin point a single record or piece of data within a data set. For the marriage example the following locate the record within source items:
|Original||page & record number|
|Microfiche||counted row and column numbers, record number|
|Transcript||page number, record number|
|Microfilm||Item number, counted image number, record number|
|Digital image||browsing breadcrumb, image number|
|Database entries||search terms|
Genealogists need to know exactly which source item was used, because they differ in accuracy and reliability. My source tree distinguishes between the 7 source items, but does not make the relationships between them clear. Here is how I think each was derived:
Copying and processing potentially produces errors, so genealogists need to check against originals if possible. In the marriage example, I used the FamilySearch database to find the transcript and then checked the transcript against the microfiche copy of the original, because they were available at the time. Now I would use the high quality digital image that has since been published. The archive quite rightly restricts access to the original so that it is preserved.
The complicated-looking citations in Evidence Explained identify the source, the equivalent of my source tree. Multi-level citations, indicated by “citing”, give the relationships between derived versions and the original.
I have tackled some quite complex ideas in this post. I hope find some worth considering as your genealogy organisation systems develop. As Julie Goucher said, there is no one size fits all.
I thank Jill and all the panellists for challenging my assumptions, sharing their frustrations and confusion, and openly debating the issues. Conversations like this are valuable contributions that genealogy vendors and software developers need to hear. As a member of FHISO, I am listening.
© Sue Adams 2015