Friday, 30 September 2011

Trying again, a clever friend has removed the formatting.....and I am wondering if our Edward was a bigamist!

Apart from the fact that we have gained a horde of new rellies, it does give us a place of origin, which, without this confirmation would have been difficult, perhaps impossible to find.

So our Edward is from Gloucestershire and he was married twice, as Luke’s oral history attests, and my great-grandmother had another half a dozen step-sisters and step-brothers about which we knew nothing.

The unsolved part of the mystery is now focussed on the death notice 'numbers’ which do not look to include the children from his marriage to Elizabeth. But that is a far smaller mystery in reality although it may prove to be a more interesting one should we ever establish the why of the what. And I am now wondering if the why is that Edward was a bigamist.

Cherrielee Sherriff, our co-researcher from the Puddy side, and now confirmed relative raised an issue about an age discrepancy with Edward and Kylie replied:

Don’t forget the age on the death notice is not from Edward but his family.  There is a tendency to put age down at 50 and to put it up at 80.  It was also common for families to use the 84 year i.e. he was 83 plus a bit.

Elizabeth  was baptised in Oct 1820, so 36 is probably correct in Jan 1857.  If you do a quick calculation 1857-1820 = 37 but in reality it is just  1857.  Unless she was born in the first 12 days of the year she is 36  still.
If you use a date calculator on the marriage date, say Edward was 44 years 11 months, his birth date comes out at 1 Feb 1812.  Unless he was born in the first 12 days of the year it is 1812.

The same on his death, say he is exactly 84, date of birth is calculated as  15 Nov 1807.    These dates are 4 years on 2%2B months, not quite so different. 

It takes 84 years and 11 months gets you to Dec 1806.
So basically you’re looking for a baptism between 1807 and 1812.

 So now I can get back to the Gloucestershire researcher with some information which is relevant to our search. Interestingly the name Atkins does look like Aitkins on the marriage record for Hannah Mcleod. And the name has appeared as Aitkins in some records so I shall give both options to the researcher.

It has been a week of talking about handwriting in regard to a variety of issues so it is synchronistic that final resolution should come from that source.

Kylie also resolved the question as to whether or not Henry Coches was the Henry Cox who married Elizabeth Atkins, and it seems he was.

The researcher in Adelaide wrote:
There is no record of burial of Henry Edward Atkins in West Tce Cem in 1843 or to 1846.
If he died at Hutt River Clare he may be buried anywhere in the district but with no record

The marriage certificate of Elizabeth Atkins in District of Clare shows Henry’s surname as Cocks
the same handwritten letter is used for k in his X mark, her X mark and in Atkins so the registration reads -

Henry Cocks 31y tradesman, son of Charles Cocks
married 9 Feb 1880 in St Johns Church Laura by James Corvan
Elizabeth Atkins 22y daughter of Edward Atkins
both signed with an X

witnesses  J Lucas tradesman at Gladstone  and Mary Atkins her X mark at Gladstone

The handwriting discussion arose because this piece of information made me think again about earlier discussions we had from oral family history that Mary  Atkins Ross was illiterate. Given that Elizabeth is also illiterate one  would presume that James was as well although perhaps as a son he might have had more education.

What I find puzzling is that if Elizabeth Mashford was literate, as we  have come to believe, then why are at least two of her daughters able to  sign only with an X?

There were levels of literacy and with a literate  mother (and now we know father) I find it hard to believe that these children would not at least be able to sign their  names. An X suggests total illiteracy.

Perhaps I am more of a cynic, but it seems to me that a lot of ancestry  research is like a lot of archeological research.... it is conjecture.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it draws upon our intuitive skills in a  bid to better understand something which does not make sense.

But the explanation of it not being fashionable to sign one’s name, which has been given as a a possibility, does  not make sense to me given the hierarchy of society at the time and the  snobbery associated with the class system.

Writing was a sign of one’s status.... illiteracy a sign of  inferiority... I can accept that a woman who could sign her name might  use a mark if her husband was illiterate so as not to embarrass him but I  don’t see why a witness would.

More to the point, the oral history in my family had Mary as illiterate.  Given the shame associated with illiteracy I don’t think that is the  sort of story which would be made up and handed down through  generations.

And Mary’s signature on her marriage certificate is so shaky and badly  formed .... it is not the signature of someone who is literate. The  George Lewis signature as witness on the other hand is well formed and  is actually very similar to Kate Clavin so if he put a mark on his wedding certificate I am wondering if someone wrote  their signatures. I might see if I can find a handwriting expert to ask  about this because it could be an important source of information.

And there is certainly time for Mary to become semi-literate before she married eight years after Elizabeth.

It makes me ponder again an earlier rumination as to whether or not  Elizabeth was literate.

Kylie replied:
I  have always wondered about this.  I have found places where the same  person has signed their name and others where they used a mark and it confused  me no end.  However I was reading a book on English records for tracing  the family tree and he made the point that using a mark was common even  in the literate and that you should never use that as an indication that the ancestor was illiterate.  It seems  they considered the signature and the mark as interchangeable and that  it did not reflect on their intelligence or education to use a mark.

Also,  at one stage, it was considered unlucky for a girl to sign their name on a wedding certificate if the man used a mark.  I wonder if this just  became unlucky to sign on a wedding certificate at one stage.  If this  is the case, it could explain why they have used marks on this wedding  certificate, whereas Elizabeth’s generation seemed to use their signature.  It may just be a fashion.

Mary  could sign her name, she did on both copies of her marriage certs.  It looks like George signed his name on her marriage cert but he put his  mark on his marriage certificate in 1872.  This marriage took place in  1880, 8 years before Mary’s marriage.  Perhaps the fashion had changed  by then, or she was old enough not to bother with the fashion.

All  history is conjecture and interpretation.  I can’t find the exact page and it is not indexed but the author was talking about wills and other  documents such as letters that were known to be written by someone,  competently in their own hand, then finding they had done a mark only on  other documents, such as wills, marriage certs or witnessing documents.  Having come across a few examples myself now,  it struck a chord with me. 

You  wondered if Edward was illiterate, and that was why the children  weren’t taught.  I don’t think so as his signature on Elizabeth’s cert is very  confident and well formed.  It is definitely in a different hand to the  rest of the cert so I presume it was his signature. 

Anyway  these are the two certificates with Georges mark and signature.  NB: When the site lets me upload images again I will post these. You are correct that sometimes the clerk would copy the certificate but he  was supposed to do the mark or signature as a facsimile, so it is hard  to tell what’s what (and it should have been marked as a copy).

 I have  wondered if the mark was actually Sarah’s as her sister only gave a mark as the witness.  I can’t imagine the clerk  doing one mark but not others, so I assumed that George couldn’t read or  write.  However it certainly looks like he signed Mary’s certificate.   Also attached is the bible front page.  I wondered who filled this out.  If you check the letters are the same as  his signature on Mary’s cert.  Fancier and neater but formed in the same  basic way.

And as I now can see from the signature on the two marriage  certificates, Edward Atkins had a well-formed hand as Kylie pointed out,  which looks like that of a literate man.

So the issue of handwriting can prove fruitful if not conclusive in such research. If Mary and Elizabeth were illiterate it does raise questions which could bring important answers.

Such questions prompt ponderings. Perhaps Edward was a bigamist and spent little time with Elizabeth given the size of his family with Hannah. Left on her own Elizabeth would have been busy with her two sons from her first marriage and three more children in quick succession with Edward. If Elizabeth were literate but spent much of her time alone it would not be surprising that her children did not learn to write, if indeed that were the case.

It would also explain why it looks like Elizabeth and her three children moved to Gladstone, some time before 1880, when Elizabeth Atkins marries and Mary is her witness and lists her place of residence as Gladstone, while Edward remained at Wirrabarra.

Did Hannah stay on at Bundaleer while Edward worked at Wirrabarra, only to re-appear years later as the first wife? Her son Henry, if he lived, would have been fourteen in 1857 and the oldest girls around twelve and ten. Bundaleer (Jamestown) is some 50km from Wirrabarra and probably a day and a half’s journey.

Could this be why Elizabeth and her children, from what we can see, did not put up a death notice for Edward and were not mentioned in the death notice which the children of his first family published? Clearly by the time Edward Atkins died at Whyte Park, Wirrabarra, at the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Hannah would have been dead or she would have been mentioned.

 Or perhaps it was her death, sometime in the 1870’s, which brought Edward Atkins’s children from the first marriage to Wirrabarra where they discovered his second family and Elizabeth learned the truth?

The fact is that Edward Atkins was married twice and when he died we know his second wife was living but she did not get a mention. Neither, by the look of it, did the children he had with her. The daughters mentioned fit with his marriage to Hannah and there is every chance that Henry Edward who was born in 1843, survived.

If a woman discovered her marriage was bigamous in the late 19th century and her children were illegitimate, would she wish to hide that fact by leaving her husband and moving her children far enough away to keep the secret? Gladstone is some 30km from Wirrabarra and a good day’s travel by horse.

A bigamous marriage could explain why they moved away and why there was no death notice for Elizabeth Mashford and her children.

It is of course all conjecture but there is food for thought? My hope now is that I will be able to trace Edward Atkins to his Gloucestershire roots.

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