SHEPHERD, Hemel Hempstead, circa 1880-1908

February, 2008

Helen Shepherd (helen57uk @t of Hemel Hempstead, Herts, writes: How do I find out where William Shepherd came from? I know he was married in Hemel Hempstead on 2nd February 1908 to Philadelphia Spurr. The marriage certificate tells me he was living at 30 Cherry Bounce aged 28, but the father's name box just has a line drawn through it. The surname also looks like it was altered to read 'Shepheard' although the children were registered as Shepherd. I have also found his death in the 4th quarter of 1924 aged 44. I would appreciate any advice you can give me to help me trace him back further.

You don't say what sources you have used, and I will assume that you have followed the advice to beginners before they ask a question and looked at the tutorial. You then tried to find William Shepherd in the census returns and ran into difficulties. The fact that, at the time of his marriage, William was living in Cherry Bounce, which was an area of slum housing, suggests he was poor, and probably poorly educated. If he "made his mark" on the marriage certificate he would not even be able to write his own name - much less spell it.

A simple census search, on Ancestry, for people called William Shepherd living in England between 1878 and 1882 shows suggests that over 50 people a year were born with that name or likely spelling variations - and the problem is to identify which was your William.

If it was simple your William would have been born and lived all his life in Hemel Hempstead - but the only census reference is in the 1891 census to a Joseph William Shepperd who was born circa 1880 and was living with his mother, a younger brother and 2 younger sisters at 20 Astley Road, Hemel Hempstead.  Using this information a check of the 1881 census shows he was recorded as Jospeph Shepherd and his father was also a Joseph Shepherd.

Here is a difficulty - as you say that William's marriage certificate in 1908 did not record his father. This means that he was illegitimate and so, in the 1881 census, you would have expected to find him living with his unmarried mother.  This means that the Joseph William Shepherd in the census cannot be your William.

Searching for William Shepherds born anywhere in Hertfordshire, preferably near Hemel Hempstead, is also not very hopeful - and if your William was not born in Hertfordshire there are very many possibilities - even if you exclude those who were living with their fathers. However much time you spend checking census entries and birth registrations there will still be a problem of being able to prove which William is yours. There may be other clues available to you, which you did not mention in your question, such as family traditions, his occupation, the marriage witnesses or the names he gave to his children - see The Inheritance of Single Christian Names. There may also be some relevant military records at the National Archives relating to service in the First World War.

However hope is at hand. What you need is some definite link between William and his place of birth. The 1911 census is currently being indexed and will be available next year if your can wait that long. If William and Philadelphia had a child around 1911 you may be able to get the 1911 census information without having to wait. The birth certificate will give you the address where they were living at the time and it is possible to buy a copy of the 1911 census return for that address without having to wait.

Let me know what the 1911 census return says when you get it, and if you still have problems in buying the correct William Shepherd's birth certificate I may be able to advise further.

P.S. It would be interesting to know if Philadelphia Spurr was related to Walter Spurr (who was a baby living in Cherry Bounce in 1901) - see Theft of Sweets - Boys to be thrashed

There is a web page for Hemel Hempstead.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.


Page created February 2008