Friday, 13 June 2014

Out of the Woodwork and on to the Tree

I discovered an ancestor I didn't know I had a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I know all the ancestors we 'discover' are generally unknown before we find them! But this was a branch of the family I thought I already knew well.

My paternal grandfather, Ernest George Shelley, was born in 1897 and his birth was registered in Worfield, near Bridgenorth. The 1901 census specified his birthplace as the village of Claverley, nearby.

Claverley, Shropshire

George (as my grandfather was generally known) was one of the very first family members I investigated at the start of  my family history journey. His father was also George and had also been born in Claverley.

George Shelley

I visited the Shropshire Records Office in Shrewsbury and checked out the parish records. George had been baptised in the village church. His mother was recorded as Emma Shelley and his father was recorded as "unknown".  This was a surprise! I was delighted to have found my first 'out of wedlock' ancestor so early!

The 1871 census listed Emma as living with her parents Thomas and Bessey Shelley, at Sutton Mill, Claverley along with George then aged 1, who was recorded as being Thomas's grandson.

By 1881, however, although George, now aged 11, was still living with his grandfather (Bessey had died earlier that year) his relationship to the head of the household was now cited as son. There was no mention of Emma and I couldn't find her anywhere.

In fact it wasn't until a few years later when I began another search for her that I discovered that she'd married a widower, George Wenlock, in 1876 and went on to have other children. It seemed that Mr Wenlock had not been prepared to take on Emma's illegitimate son.

So far, so straight forward... until browsing on recently, I came across another family tree showing Emma, her parents Thomas and Bessey, her marriage to George Wenlock and the Wenlock children. However my great-grandfather George Shelley was missing.

Now this might not be so very surprising if the existence of George was an embarrassment and the decision had been taken to exclude him from Emma's family tree, were it not for the fact that there was a different illegitimate child listed, called Charles. And it wasn't a case of there being a muddle over names. Charles was another child, born to Emma in 1874, again at Sutton Mill, where George had been born a few years before.

Correspondence between me and my 'counterpart' ensued! Neither family had been aware of the existence of the other half-brother and we shared information about each, swapping photographs and documents.

Was it true that neither boy had been completely unaware of one other? George would have been barely three when Charles was born. He may have had been too young to recall the event, particularly as a family living in one of the labourers' cottages at Sutton Mill at the time adopted Charles, possibly soon after he was born. By 1881 the family had moved away from the area taking Charles with them. Charles may never have been told that George was his brother and visa versa. Did Charles even know the identity of his mother?

It was an interesting surprise for my dad and my counterpart's mum to gain a previously unknown 'half ' great-uncle!