Another week, another slow removal of bricks in the wall of my East Anglian Ancestors. But if I allow myself free rein, without the burden of complete proof and with an eye less on certainty & more on possibility, then a long-standing wall reduces to a heap of rubble. It’s not totally unfounded either. Some facts, some logic & a tiny DNA match suggest I’m on the right track in my search for the origins of my great x3 grandmother, Lydia Whittle. Let me explain.
Lydia Whittle, born circa 1808, mostly gave her place of birth as Maldon in Essex and once as Cockfield in Suffolk. I have spent several decades trying to find her in Maldon – not a Whittle in sight, and I assumed that Cockfield was somewhere she might have been in service.
A few months ago, I found a strong Whittle DNA match on Ancestry to a family called Hancock. Thomas Hancock married Mary Whittle in St George’s, Hanover Square in 1827. The census confirmed that Mary was born in Maldon in Essex. I researched her descendants & found good DNA matches to the ARROW & BONE families her daughters married into. I was confident that Mary was the sister of Lydia, but no father was named on either of their marriage certificate and there was still no sign of any Whittle births in Maldon. The only clue was a witness on Mary’s marriage certificate named Hannah Whittle, but I couldn’t find a birth or census record for Hannah.
I shelved the matter for a few months, too busy, truth be told, writing my new novel, but picked it up again this week. Like my fictional creation, Private Detective Lawrence Harpham, I ferreted away until I found something. Searching through the London marriage records I finally located an entry for Hannah Whittle that looked promising. When I checked the witnesses, there was no doubt. One witness was Jane Whittle and the other was Thomas Hancock, Mary’s husband. Better still, Hannah’s father was named on the marriage certificate. He was called George Whittle. I couldn’t find Hannah on the census, so I went looking for Jane Whittle – and found her. Jane married John Brand in Camberwell in 1850. There were no interesting witnesses this time, but her father was also named as George Whittle. So now I had four sisters, three evidenced as born in Maldon in Essex via census records but still no corresponding baptisms in Maldon.
I tried searching for George Whittle to no avail – through Ancestry, through FMP, Free BMD & Family Search. Nothing. Then, just as I was about to give up again, and go back to getting Lawrence out of a particularly tricky situation, I found an entry in the Essex assizes for 1820 – George Whittle alias WALKER was sentenced to death for sheep stealing. I immediately consulted free BMD for Maldon Parish records, and there they were – parish records for Mary, Hannah & Jane Walker born to George Walker & Sarah – no Lydia. And I still haven’t found her, but there’s more.
I couldn’t find mention of George in any execution or transportation records, so I looked to see if he was in a census, but I didn’t know how old he was or where he was from. I wondered if there was a logical reason why he might have chosen to take the name Walker and ran a check for Whittles married to Walkers. There was one. Edward Whittle married Mary Walker in Alpheton, Suffolk in 1760 and they settled in Long Melford.
A search of the Long Melford parish records revealed a baptism record for George Whittle born 1767. He married Sarah Parish in 1791. The names matched to George and Sarah Walker from Maldon, but their marriage was almost ten years before Mary was born in 1803. However, another search produced a son, George, born to George & Sarah in Long Melford in 1792 and a daughter, Sarah, born Cockfield in 1794. These were undeniably the right parents as Sarah’s maiden name of Parish forms part of the baptismal record. Maldon parish records show one burial record and one marriage record which imply that there may have been children before Mary born 1803, potentially closing the gap between Sarah & Mary.
It all sounded promising, but not only was it highly speculative, but George & Sarah Whittle were still alive and dwelling in Cockfield at the time of the 1841 census. Sarah was also in the 1851 census making the theory less certain. First and foremost, George should have been dead given the death sentence that was passed in 1820. Some sheep-stealing death sentences were over-turned, but I would expect him to have been transported, at the very least. Perhaps he was, but I can’t find any record. Is it possible that he left Maldon as George Walker and returned to Cockfield as George Whittle? I’m not entirely convinced but one thing that has swayed me towards this idea. I have never found Lydia Whittle’s baptism – but as I mentioned earlier, she gave Cockfield as her parish of birth in the 1861 census. That makes perfect sense if she was born or brought up in Maldon and returned to Cockfield with her parents.
On that basis, I’ve decided to go public with this speculative tree. I’ll be uploading it to Ancestry shortly in the hope of getting better DNA matches in the fullness of time. It’s a win-win anyway. The theory will either stand up to scrutiny or someone will prove it wrong. It’s a gain whichever way you look at it.