Religious Affiliation and Who’s the mom?

When I examined the original parish register at the Bury St Edmunds branch of Suffolk Record Office, back in 2002, the name of this bride’s father stood out.  As I was following my Coulson relatives, I did not investigate further at the time.

Bride: Lily May Smith, age 20
Groom: George William Coulson, age 27
Date: 23 June 1905
Location: All Saints, Hitcham
Father of Bride: Alice Jane Smith (deceased)
Father of Groom: John Coulson (deceased)

Alice Jane Smith does not sound like a man’s name, so why would a woman be recorded as a ‘father’?  Could Lily May have been the illegitimate daughter of Alice Jane Smith?  My first step in pursuing this question was to verify the marriage entry from an independent source.  A gravestone at the Wattisham Strict Baptist chapel commemorates this couple and confirms their approximate dates of birth.  The Baptist chapel at Cross Green in Hitcham was a satellite of the Wattisham chapel.  In my experience, people who are missing from the established Church of England registers for All Saints, Hitcham, often turn up in the Baptist records.  George was baptised at All Saints.  The couple could have married in the Baptist chapel at this date.  As there is a long history of non-conformists marrying in the established Church of England, we can’t assume that this couple’s choice indicates their religious affiliation.

Lily & George W Coulson gravestone

Lily & George W Coulson gravestone
Wattisham Strict Baptist Chapel, Suffolk, England

In loving memory of
beloved wife of
died 9th Dec 1958
in her 73rd year
safe in the arms of Jesus
also of
died 31st July 1959
aged 8[1] years
for ever with the Lord

George and Lily appear on the 1911 census at Brettenham Road, Hitcham, with daughter, Violet; brother-in-law, William Smith, aged 61; and mother-in-law, Susannah Smith, a widow aged 72.  The mother-in-law relationship to George suggests Susannah was Lily’s mother, but her age is too old for that to be likely.  I found no reasonable match for Alice Jane Smith, which is consistent with her deceased status on the 1905 marriage register.

In 1901, Lily was living and working as a servant in the household of a farmer in neighbouring Bildeston, so we can glean no helpful relationships from that record.  Susannah (aged 65) is recorded on the Hitcham census with husband Robert Smith (aged 79) and two adult un-married daughters, Alice (aged 35) and Elizabeth (aged 21).  The 1891 Hitcham census is even more helpful as Robert Smith’s household contained wife Susan (aged 50), daughter Alice (aged 23) and granddaughter Lily M (aged 5).  It does not identify Alice as Lily’s mother, but I will be surprised if the civil birth registration for Lily (1886, Jan-Mar quarter Cosford district, vol. 4a, p. 691) does not confirm my suspicions.  The evidence so far clearly suggests Lily May was raised with the support of her grandparents, Robert and Susannah Smith.

© Sue Adams 2013

Baptist Marriage and Birth records

The Church of England parish register for Wattisham records this marriage[1]:

Bride: Hannah Whiting, of Wattisham parish, a single woman
Groom: Abraham Stiff, of Wattisham parish, batchelor
Date: 29 November 1811
Location:  St Nicholas, Wattisham, Suffolk – the parish Church of England church for Wattisham
Officiating clergy: James Harrison, curate
Witnesses: Sally Goldsmith, John Welham

The groom was a Baptist[2] and the bride was probably baptised in the Church of England[3], but they did not have a choice of church in which to marry.  In 1811, it was the norm for Baptists and other Protestant dissenters to marry in the establish Anglican Church, because only Anglican marriages had full legal status[4].  The couple’s affiliation with both churches is reflected in the Anglican baptisms and Baptist birth records of their children.

Name Type Date Source
Hannah Steff christening 28 Mar 1813 Bishop’s Transcripts,
Church of England
Abraham Steff christening 1814
Abraham Steff christening 28 Apr 1816
Jonathan Stiff christening 05 May 1818
Sarah Steff birth 09 Apr 1820 Register transcripts,
Elijah Steff birth 09 May 1823
Ann Steff birth 31 Aug 1826
Suzanna Steff birth 05 Aug 1829
Richard Stiff birth 21 Sep 1832
Sarah Ann Stiff birth 15 Jun 1835
FamilySearch index. Wattisham Baptism and Birth Records. Children of Abraham and Hannah Stiff/Steff.

Anglican baptisms (or christenings) were generally performed on infants soon after birth.  Baptists only performed baptisms on ‘Believers’ who were old enough to understand the religious meaning of the ceremony, so recorded both births and adult baptisms.

Wattisham Strict Baptist Chapel, established in 1763, drew its congregation from the surrounding villages, including Hitcham, Bildeston and Ringshall[5].  Therefore, attendance did not necessarily indicate the residence of congregation members, only that they probably resided within travelling distance.

This couple are recorded together on only one census, in 1851 at Bildeston, with one adult daughter, Ann (aged 25), who were all born in Hitcham.  Abraham’s occupation was a baker.

In 1841, the best census match for Abraham is a 50 year old woodsman in Bury St Edmunds Goal and House of Correction.  The best match for Hannah finds her with one daughter, Susan (aged 10, born ca 1831, who may be Suzanna), at Ringshall.  Daughter Ann, aged 15, was a servant at Loose Hall, Hitcham.  Whilst I expect that the older children would have left the parental home, where were the two youngest, Richard and Sarah Ann?

[1] Church of England. Wattisham parish (St Nicholas), Suffolk. Parish Registers, 1783-1812.  Suffolk RO microfiche, J 562/97/2, row 3, col 9, [no page number], no 45. citing Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds, FB 7/D1/3.
[2]“England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 26 Nov 2012), Abraham Steff, 21 Jan 1790; citing reference , FHL microfilm 990228 (Baptist register transcripts, Wattisham, Suffolk).
[3] “England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 26 Nov 2012), Hannah Whiteing, 28 Feb 1790; citing FHL microfilm 887397 (Bishop’s transcripts for the Archdeaconry of Sudbury, 1560-1853).
[4] Probert, Rebecca (2012) Marriage Laws for Genealogists. Takeaway: Kenilworth. pp. 97-98.
[5] Timmons, T.C.B. (1997) Suffolk Returns from the Census of Religious Worship 1851. Suffolk Records Society, Woodbridge.  pp. 20-21.