Isa and Charlie – Double Tragedy

This week’s 50 Marriage Mondays post concerns my maternal grandmother, Isa, and her first husband, Charlie.  As all her surviving descendants are from her second marriage, this marriage has been little discussed.

Marriage Certificate - Charles Henry Brown & Isabelle Frances

Marriage Certificate – Charles Henry Brown & Isabelle Frances Rebecca Jones

Bride: Isabelle Frances Rebecca Jones, a Typist
Groom: Charles Henry Brown, a Motor Mechanic
Date: 18 August 1928
Location: Christ Church, Sparkbrook, Birmingham
Bride’s father: Charles Bertram Jones
Groom’s father: George Brown, deceased
Witnesses: Charles Percival Fleming Jones, Sarah Jane Brown

Charlie & Isa's wedding

Charlie & Isa’s wedding

All of the people named on the marriage certificate, except the groom’s deceased father, appear on this photo of the core wedding party: bride, groom, parents, probable best man and bridesmaids.  The person missing is the groom’s mother.  Only one of the bride’s three then living brothers, Charles Percival Fleming Jones, who served as a witness is included, so I think he may have also served as best man.  The other witness was the bridesmaid seated next to the bride, Sarah Jane Brown, the groom’s sister.  The two younger bridesmaids standing at either side are Doris and Gwendoline Brown, nieces of the groom, but I am not sure which is which.  The fourth bridesmaid is Muriel Simms, the bride’s maternal first cousin.  The older couple are the bride’s parents, Charles Bertram and Mary Louisa Jones.

Charlie and Isa both grew up in Sparkbrook, Birmingham and were recorded at their parental homes on the 1911 census, the same addresses as on the marriage certificate.  By that time, Charlie’s father, George Brown, had died and his mother, Alice had taken in a lodger named Alfred Dean.  The connection of Alfred Dean with the Brown family was long term as he proved Alice Brown’s will in 1942, more than 30 years later (National Probate Calendar 1942, p. 611):

BROWN Alice of 45 White-road Sparkbrook Birmingham 11 widow died 10 May 1942 Probate Birmingham 8 July to Alfred Dean motor driver.  Effect £138 13s 4d.

As Charlie was only about 6 when Alfred joined the household, it is likely that Alfred influenced Charlie’s development as a motor mechanic.

Charlie & Isa with car

Charlie & Isa with car

Charlie’s Death

Sadly, the marriage only lasted 2 years and 3 days, cut short by Charlie’s untimely death.  His death certificate provides the details:

Date: 22 August 1930
Location: I.D. Raddle Barn Road, Selly Oak [Selly Oak Hospital]
Cause of death: I(a) Actinomycosis of Liver  (b) Abscess of Groin (Laparotomy 4.7.30)  No P.M.
Residence: 45 White Road, Sparkbrook [The couple lived with Charlie’s mother, Alice]

The cause of death was a slow and unpleasant one.  Actinomycosis, caused by the bacteria Actinomyces israelii, is usually an infection of mouth, digestive tract, or respiratory system, which typically results in inflammation and abscesses.  Only a small proportion of cases involve the liver, so Charlie’s case was unusual.  Diagnosis is difficult because the bacterium requires anaerobic culture conditions.  Family anecdote suggests that several conditions were considered, including psittacosis as Alice had a pet parrot.  The laparotomy, a surgical opening of the abdominal cavity, probably confirmed diagnosis but lead to spread of the infection to the groin.  Consequently, a post mortem was unnecessary.

The condition would be treated with penicillin today.  In 1930, penicillin was a very recent discovery that did not become widely available until methods of mass production were developed in the 1940s.

Baby Peter

Isa’s daughters know that Isa and Charlie had a baby boy named Peter, who died shortly after birth.  However, official records of the birth and death have proved elusive.  Even a stillborn child should have been registered as stipulated in the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1926, but there is no good match in the online birth registration index.  It is thought that Peter was born a few months after Charlie’s death at Isa parent’s home, where she returned after Charlie’s death.

Special thanks to Isa’s daughters for sharing the certificates and photos.

© Sue Adams 2013

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Representing Multiple Marriages and Crossing Connections

Information gleaned from my maternal grand-parent’s marriage certificate indicates that Isabelle Jones first married a man with the surname Brown.

Marriage Certificate - Alfred Frederick Bull & Isabelle Frances Rebecca Brown

Marriage Certificate – Alfred Frederick Bull & Isabelle Frances Rebecca Brown

Bride: Isabelle Rebecca Frances Brown, widow
Groom: Alfred Frederick Bull, bachelor
Date: 1 February 1937
Location: The Register Office, Birmingham
Bride’s father: Charles Bertram Jones
Groom’s father: William Osborne Bull

Further research supports the family story that Isabelle and Albert were introduced to one another by the relatives of Isabelle’s first husband, Charles Henry Brown.  To complicate matters Charles’ brother, George Brown married Alfred’s sister, Ann Dorothy Bull.  OK, there are too many relationships in that sentence, so I want to draw a chart that helps me visualise them.

Traditional genealogy charts and reports work from one individual and follow two basic patterns, ancestral and descendant.  Hourglass charts effectively stick an ancestral and descendant chart together at one individual.  Most genealogy programs feature all-in-one or extended charts.  Individuals with multiple relationships, appear more than once.  For example, Family Tree Maker 2010 produces this chart:

Extended Family Tree Chart for Isabelle Frances Rebecca Jones

Extended Family Tree Chart for Isabelle Frances Rebecca Jones

Notice that Alfred Frederick Bull and Charles Henry Brown appear twice and the chart has two separate ‘trees’.  I have colour coded the three families for clarity.  FTM 2010 allows manipulation of charts, so I fiddled around to try to represent this family on one joined up diagram with no crossed lines.

Manipulated Extended Family Tree Chart for Isabelle Frances Rebecca Jones

Manipulated Extended Family Tree Chart for Isabelle Frances Rebecca Jones

Although it seems clearer to me, it might not help anyone else.  It breaks the conventional placement of older generations at the top by turning the Browns upside down.  What do you think?  However, people such as Isabelle’s son-in-laws and grand-children will not fit. The glaring problem is the lack of scalability.

Perhaps it is time for a radical re-think.  In 2010, an alternative un-conventional approach was published in an academic paper[1]Geneaquilts, the prototype software produces this:

GeneaQuilts chart

GeneaQuilts chart

It is not as intuitive as conventional genealogical charts, but it copes well with complex relationships and is scalable.  I used the highlighting feature to mark the same 3 families.

The GeneaQuilts website claims two genealogy programs have implemented the charts.  Unfortunately, neither is functional.  First, Progeny’s Charting Companions for FTM, PAF Ancestral Quest and Legacy features ‘Trellis charts’.  I downloaded and installed the evaluation version Charting Companion for FTM, but the program presented an error message that indicated I should update FTM 2010 to 19.0.0.207 on start-up and failed to open the data file.  The latest version for FTM 2010 is 19.0.0.206.  Second, Geneapro’s own website states that it does not provide the full functionality yet.  Furthermore, I failed to install this software, due to inadequate documentation on external tools required.


[1] A. Bezerianos, P. Dragicevic, J.-D. Fekete, J. Bae, B. Watson. GeneaQuilts: A System for Exploring Large Genealogies. In IEEE InfoVis ’10: IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, Oct 2010, Salt-Lake City, USA

© Sue Adams 2013


Making the Connection between Civil Registration and Census Records

The information on a marriage certificate gives a good starting point for tracking both the couple concerned and their parental families through census records.  This week’s example in the 50 Marriage Mondays series is a General Register Office copy of the marriage register.

Marriage Certificate George Brown & Alice Macdonald

Marriage Certificate George Brown & Alice Macdonald [1]

Bride: Alice MacDonald, age 20
Groom: George Brown, age 23
Date: 28 October 1888
Location: St Andrew’s church, St Andrew’s Bordesley, Aston, Warwick
Groom’s father: George Brown, Engine Driver
Brides father: Edward Macdonald dec’d, Engine Driver

The first census after this marriage was taken in 1891[2].  It enumerates 3 members of the household at 5 Court 3 House, 41 White Road in the Bordesley Ward of Birmingham Municipal Borough and Aston registration district.

George Brown, head 25, born in Spalding, Lincs
Alice Brown, wife 19, born in Birmingham, Warwick
Arthur Macdonald, brother in law 16, born in Birmingham, Warwick

Notice that Alice’s age does not tally with that given on the marriage certificate.  Alice’s age is consistently reported on this and other census records, suggesting that she was born ca 1872, so was only 16 at the time of the marriage.  Between 1865 and 1874, births of 11 Alice Macdonald/McDonald were registered, but only the January – March 1872 quarter recorded a birth in Aston which is local to Birmingham.

Parental consent should have been required for her to marry as she was under 21.  If there was an attempt to conceal her age, 21 should have been given to avoid any consent requirement.  However, her father was deceased and the identity and status of her mother is not apparent from these two records.  The presence of Arthur Macdonald, brother of Alice, helps confirm that this is the same person as on appears on earlier census.

Working back in time finds Alice in her parent’s residence, 55 White Road, Bordesley in 1881[3].  All were born in Birmingham.

Edward Mc Donald Head 56 Beer Retailer (Out Door)
Maria Mc Donald Wife 50
Emily Mc Donald Daughter 19
Walter Mc Donald Son   17 Nail Caster
Mary A. Mc Donald Daughter   11
Alice Mc Donald Daughter   9
Arthur Mc Donald Son   6

Edward and Maria Macdonald have not been found on the 1891 census.  Five possible deaths for Edward Macdonald/McDonald of the right age were registered between 1881 and 1891, the most likely in the October-December 1887 quarter at Solihull.  Maria could have died or remarried, either of which could have led to Arthur going to live with his sister.  Only one death for a Maria Macdonald/McDonald of the right age was registered in the decade, in the July-September 1883 quarter at Worksop, and there were several registrations of marriages for people named Maria Macdonald/McDonald.

The groom, George Brown resided with his parent at 8 Hawthorne Bank, Spalding in 1881[4]

George Brown head 57 Corbet, Lincoln
Hannah Brown wife 51 Spalding, Lincoln
William son 18 Holbeach, Lincoln
George son 16 Spalding, Lincoln
Selina daughter 13 Gosberton, Lincoln
Ellen daughter 10 Gosberton, Lincoln

Moving forward in time, the couple were at 45 White Rd, Bordesley in 1901[5].

George Brown Head 35 Little London, Lincolnshire
Alice Brown Wife 29 Birmingham, Warwickshire
George Brown Son 7 Birmingham, Warwickshire

Notice the discrepancy in George’s place of birth, Little London rather than Spalding.  There are 4 places named Little London in Lincolnshire.  However one is in Spalding, marked at one end of Hawthorne Bank, so the George’s place of birth and home in 1881 were certainly very close if not the same house.

By 1911 George had died leaving Alice with 3 children at 45 White Rd, Sparkbrook (same address as 1901 as Sparkbrook is in Bordesley ward)[6].  This schedule also includes a lodger, Alfred Dean from Gedney Drove End, Lincolnshire and reveals that Alice had another child who died prior to 1911.

Alice Brown Head 39 Hardware Dealer
George Brown Son 17 Brass Polisher
Charles Henry Brown Son 7
Sarah Jane Brown Son 5
Alfred Dean Boarder 29 Labourer Interception Dept, Birmingham Corporation

Discrepancies between the census and civil registration information have been resolved sufficiently for me to reach a preliminary conclusion that Alice’s parents were Edward and Maria Macdonald of Aston, and George’s parents were George and Hannah Brown of Spalding.


[1] General Register Office. Certified copy of an entry of Marriage (Marriage certificate). RD Aston. Warwick, St Andrews, Bordesley, no 275. issued 11 August 2005. George Brown & Alice Macdonald, 1888.

[2] Census. 1891. England & Wales. Warwick, Aston, Deritend. RD 39, image 22.  Brown, George. Available online ancestry.co.uk .
[3] Census. 1881. England & Wales. Warwick, Aston, Deritend. RD 39, images 20-21. McDonald, Edward. Available online ancestry.co.uk .

[4] Census. 1881. England & Wales. Lincoln, Spalding. RD 12, image 32. Brown, George. Available online ancestry.co.uk

[5] Census. 1901. England & Wales. Warwickshire, Aston, Deritend. RD 40, image  22. Brown, George. Available online ancestry.co.uk

[6] Census. 1911. England & Wales. Warwickshire, Aston. RD 34, page 1083, schedule 183. Brown, Alice. Available online ancestry.co.uk .