Answers to Questions


KIFF, St Albans & Tasmania, Mid 19th century

January, 2009



St Albans

Lynda Bracegirdle (bracegirdle1 @t of Clacton-on Sea originally contacted me in 2004 - see FROST/KIFF, London Colney, 1851-1881 and has contacted me again with a problem with one family - that of Thomas Kiff and his wife Susan Cockle. Using information from the original enquiry and later research using the normal birth/marriage/death and census records provide the following guideline, all of which refers to the parish of St Michaels, St Albans.

31 January 1808 Thomas Kiff, son of James and Catherine, was baptised. He was one of a large family, his brother Robert being baptised in 1814
5 September 1830 Thomas Kiff married Susanah Cockle
28 November 1830 Charles Kiff, son of Thomas and Susannah, was baptised.
23 September 1832 George Kiff, son of Thomas and Susannah, was baptised.
12 July 1835 James Kiff, son of Thomas and Susan, was baptised.
15 September 1839 Mary Ann Kiff, son of Thomas and Susannah, was baptised.
1841 census Thomas Kiff and Susan were in Fishpool Street with children James & Mary. Thomas's widowed mother and other family members including his brother Robert, lived next door.
1849 Eliza born (from 1851 census) [Assumed father registered as Thomas - needs checking]
1851 census Susan Kiff (married, Straw plaiter) and children James, Mary Ann and Eliza living in Fishpool Street. Thomas was nowhere to be seen.
11 May 1853 Ann Kiff, daughter of Thomas and Susan born
1861 census Susan Kiff (widow, washerwoman) with Elizabeth and Anne. There is no record of Thomas's death being registered

This looks like a normal family, with a longer than usual gap between the children, and I originally wrote about Thomas's absence in the 1851 census "No sign of the husband (presumably Thomas Kiff if this is the right Susan) but he may have been away on business. (Perhaps he was away selling the straw hats made by the family!)"

Lynda now reports:

From there, I pursued the different lines vis Kiff and Frost. Eventually, working my way back to early 1700's Re Kiff - or so I thought, until this week,...  when I decided re-investigate records. On the LDS site I found a Pedigree Chart for Kiff, which listed Thomas Kiff (son of James & Catherine) as dying in Tasmania in other information. As I had not found reference to him since 1841, I investigated through National Archives etc., and eventually managed to locate Tasmanian Records showing Thomas Kiff and Robert Kiff deported in 1842 on the Probation Ship "The Earl Grey" for Larceny.

The Offence, which carried a 10 year sentence, is fully recorded as "Stealing   9 shillings from a man in a disorderly house"  The ages of these men, birth places and previous occupations, etc., (wife's name Susan listed for Thomas) suggest this is the Thomas Kiff I have been looking for and that Robert is his Brother. The Records are fascinating, everything is described about the person inc eye colour, height, scars, etc.,  even  colour of their eyebrows. Embarkation was 26th Sept 1842, The Ship left Plymouth in  October 1842, arriving in Tasmania January 1843.  Sadly, Thomas is shown as having died at H.M. Col. Hospital on 6th March 1843. Remarks were "swelling of the right cheek".

My question is - If this is Thomas Kiff husband of Susan, supposed Father of my Gt Grandmother Ann Kiff - I have a dilema:-

Ann was born in 1853 (I have a copy of her birth certificate which records her Father as Thomas Kiff Agr. Labourer.) There is no mention of him being deceased, until 1861 (when Susan was described as a widow in the census) and he is explicitly described as deceased in Ann's marriage cert in 1871...????

Since I cannot locate Thomas after 1841 - and no death record in England that matches his profile DOB etc.,) it would seem he was not Ann's Father, and the work and tracing I have done re his ancestors, are now not relevant to my family tree and must be deleted. I have heard of such total dead ends - but it is very hard to let go..!!

Clearly something is "wrong" as Thomas cannot be the biological father of Eliza (born 1849) or Ann (born 1853). However the convention is that if a married woman has a child her husband is deemed to be the father - even if, for one reason or another - he was not available at the time of conception. If a husband is cuckolded this is rarely, if ever, explicitly recorded. 

When Thomas Kiff was transported his wife continued to be his wife until such time as it became known in St Albans that he had died. Many men transported to Australia would not have been in a position to write letters home (probably most would have been illiterate). Many never returned to England when their sentence expired and some bigamously married in Australia. Frequently the wife in England would have been left in a kind of limbo. She would still be officially married, and therefore could not remarry, but might never know what had happened to her husband, or even whether he was alive or dead.

It is quite possible that Susan was not informed of Thomas's death in 1843, and continued to believe she was still legally married to him. However, once the ten year sentence had been completed, he would be expected to return to England to look after his wife and children - and if he did not do so he would be deemed to have deserted her. If she was on poor relief this would concern the St Albans Poor Law Union. For this reason the question of her status may have been raised in about 1854 - which may be why she is described as married in the 1851 census, but widowed in 1861. [Lynda confirmed there is no relevant Kiff death recorded between the 1851 and 1861 census dates.]

From the point of view of your ancestry there are real problems. For a normal illegitimacy the father's name may not be recorded on the birth certificate - but there can be other legal records - such as a court order for maintenance payments. When a woman is believed to be still married, the husband would be responsible for the child, even if he were not the father. Unfortunately there are unlikely to be any records of the real father.

As to your work on the Kiff "ancestors" all I can say is that such withered branches are not uncommon - I have a branch of the Lock family in the 18th century which I researched before I discovered that my ancestor's mother was a widow and her late husband could not have been the father. However, while there was no blood relationship, researching the family provided some useful background to my ancestor's life.

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It is worth commenting that there is another source of information on people who were transported to Australia from Hertfordshire. This is the book Transported beyond the Sea which records that in 1842 Robert Kiff (27) and Thomas Kiff (33) were each sentenced to 10 years transportation. Robert was found guilt of breaking and entering a dwelling house and taking a hen fowl, value one shilling, from William Knight. Thomas Kiff was convicted of stealing 2 halfcrowns, 3 shillings and a six pence from the person of David Smith. Court records for the cases should be held at HALS.

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Lynda also provided the follow information on Robert Kiff in Tasmania:

Robert lived and continued with his sentence although his behaviour did not improve. There is a very long record of his bad behaviour, including solitary confinement, hard labour etc., until a Free Certificate in May 1852. It appears he remained in Tasmania, as there  is a further entry on 14th April 1874 for "being idle and disorderly" which carried a three month sentence.

She said that there are also records of Robert Kiff (or Kraif) marrying Bridgette Brady in Fingal, Tasmania, and having a number of children.

She also said that Susan marred a man 14 yrs her junior, William Chalkley, in 1861  - and that she died in 1873 age 60 from Heart Disease and Dropsy.

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Lynda ends with some useful advice:

One thing I have learned in undertaking my Family History....never take things at face value...check, re-check and check again... Even then, I can be left with having to make reasonable assumptions given dates, names, addresses, places, etc., .... rather than being absolutely positive I have the right person.

Page created January 2009