Sunday, 1 February 2015

Just your typical genealogical puzzle

I do like a good challenge. Last week I revisited the family tree of my 3 x Great Grand Uncle, George Cullip, who was born in Bedfordshire in 1802. I had done some brief work on his family a few years back so it was time to refresh my memory, confirm facts and double check all the sources.

I started with the 1841 census. This stated that George was living in Leeds with his wife Lucy and children Joseph (born, according to the census, in 1826), Cornelius (b.1831), Betsey (b.1836) and Mary Ann (b.1838). If I could find the children's baptism dates I would get a truer indication of when the children were born. I had previously discovered that when George married Lucy he was a widower. His first wife, Mary Ibbott, had died in Tempsford, Bedfordshire in January 1833. He subsequently married Lucy Stonebridge in 1837, again in Tempsford. I therefore decided to search for the baptism records in Tempsford for Mary and George's children. The Bedfordshire parish records are not yet online, so I turned my attention to This opened up an unexpected can of worms which tested my powers of investigation no end.

The Leeds 1841 census showing the children of George and Lucy Cullip.
The five year old Betsey triggered much investigation, assumption and a speculative conclusion.
George is resident with the family but features on the previous page.

I ran a 'parent search' looking for the children of George Cullip and Mary. To my surprise, there were six results, rather than the expected three (Mary Ann being the daughter of Lucy):

John, baptised Oct 1822
Joseph and Elizabeth, baptised Oct 1828
Cornelius, baptised May 1830
James and Alice, baptised Jan 1833

My first conundrum was where were James and Alice? They weren't on the 1841 census living with George and Lucy. The date of their baptism was 27 January 1833, just four days after their mother Mary had been buried. I came to the sad conclusion that she must have died as a result of childbirth. But had they too followed Mary to the grave? I can only conclude that that is what happened as I have been unable to locate them on any further census records. And unfortunately definitive death records are proving elusive too.

Secondly, I was intrigued by the birth of John in 1822. As he wasn't living with his parents by the time of the 1841 census he had slipped through my radar. In my earlier investigations into George, I had found a gaol record for him on the excellent Bedfordshire Gaol Register website. George had been committed in August 1822 to three months hard labour for refusing to obey a bastardy order. He was actually serving his sentence at the time of John's baptism in October. My theory is that George initially refused to admit to being John's father and perhaps after contact with his son he relented as, a year later, in December 1823, he and Mary were married. Whether this marriage was born out of love or duty is a matter of conjecture. It was five years before they had any surviving offspring so was the marriage initially strained? Of course, it may be that John's mother was a different Mary as the name was so common in the 19th century, but I like to think it is the same woman. My next task is to try and get my hands on the bastardy order, hopefully that will resolve the issue.

My final puzzle related to Elizabeth Cullip, I had initially noted down that she was born in 1836 as per the 1841 census. But this couldn't be the case if her baptism was in 1828! Why would a 13-year girl be listed as being five? Plus if she was Joseph's twin (an assumption brought about by the fact that they were baptised on the same day) then why isn't she noted as being the same age as him? By the 1851 census Elizabeth is listed as being 18 years old, indicating she was born in 1833 - yet another difference in her year of birth. It was at this point that a light bulb switched on over my head and I wondered whether in fact there were two different children. On the 1841 census the child is called Betsey, a common pet name for Elizabeth, hence my initial confusion. So I returned to familysearch and hunted for any Betsy or Betsey, rather than Elizabeth, born around 1833 in Tempsford. There at the top of the list was 'Betsy Stonebridge or Hare', baptised July 1832, daughter of Lucy Stonebridge and James Hare. The indecision regarding her surname led me to conclude that she must have been illegitimate. I had found my girl.

A subsequent search of the National Burial Index revealed an Elizabeth Cullip who died aged seven in 1833 and was buried in the February. There were indeed two children, one of whom switched between her birth name of Betsy and Elizabeth throughout her life, causing future amateur genealogists some trouble! I can only assume that the enumerator made an error on the 1841 census by rounding her age down from eight to five.

As Elizabeth Cullip's death followed so soon after the death of her mother I wonder whether Mary didn't in fact die in childbirth but had succombed to an illness which she then passed on to her daughter. We will probably never know.

Tempsford Church: the scene of so many of my ancestors vital life events.
Elizabeth Cullip was baptised and buried here.

As ever when searching one's family history, just as one door closes, another opens. I have more questions now which need answering. Was John Cullip the child at the heart of the bastardy case; did Lucy and George have any children I've not discovered yet (a quick glance at familysearch thinks maybe they did); what happened to the twins, James and Alice, who disappear from history after their birth? I'm still not entirely convinced that my conclusions are correct. But isn't that one of the reasons why family historians love delving into their past, to turn private investigator and get their teeth into a juicy case. For me, the case is not yet closed, and probably never will be...

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