Answers to Questions


BUCKINGHAM, Watford, 19th Century

July, 2009




Nick Buckingham (vannick @t of  Hemel Hempstead writes: My Great x4 Grandfather, George Buckingham married an Elizabeth Birch on the 4th October 1835 at St Stephens Church, St Albans and had one son Thomas in 1836 in Watford. Thomas's christening record (6th June 1843, St Mary's Watford) clearly states George and Elizabeth as Father and Mother.

My problem in finding George is that an 1841 census only shows Elizabeth Buckingham nee Birch living with her nephews and nieces in Meeting Alley, Watford with her son Thomas (spelling error on surname (Bodington)).

I believe George was a Gardener (from Thomas's christening record) and an 1851 census finds a George Buckingham, born Watford 1792, as an Agricultrual labourer living alone, while an 1861 census shows the same George in the Union Workhouse, Watford and it was this George that died in May of 1861 and is buried in Vicarage Road Cemetery. The death certificate doesn't give any information of note to tie this George with Elizabeth Birch/Buckingham who at this point is still living with son Thomas and who died in 1879.

I have only been researching my ancestry since the passing of my Father in December of last year, but have gained a wealth of our ancestry knowledge from my uncle who has been researching our family name since 1974, and he, himself has never managed to get past George.

I have a public tree on Ancestry that you can follow the Buckingham tree.

Not only have your provides much relevant information but your Ancestry family tree is also very useful - particularly with the quick links to the census returns and your useful comments about uncertainties. In replying I have concentrated on the issue of whether you have identified the right George Buckingham as Thomas's father. There is a topic file on Where to look before 1837 when the Parish Registers don't help.

I don't have a "magic" answer but there are several queries/problems relating to the identity of George Buckingham, and it may help if I make a number of observations and suggestions. In some cases you, or your uncle, may have already got the information to answer some of the queries.

The first is a general warning that George Buckingham is not a particularly unusual name and there are plenty of traps for the unwary - see Right Name Wrong Body. Names run in families - see The Inheritance of Single Christian Names so that there may be several cousins with the same name and similar ages living at the same time in the same area.

The marriage in 1835 will be in a Hardwicke Marriage Act register. Possibly relevant information would be the place of residence of the couple, whether the couple could sign their own names or made their mark, and whether the marriage was by licence or by banns. Witnesses can be helpful as they could be relatives - but there is a problem that most people researching their family miss. Sometimes the witnesses could be, for example. a church warden, etc, who regularly acts as a witness for couples who have no relatives to sign the book. These witness names can be identified because they will regularly appear in other marriages in the same book and may suggest that the couple, although living in the parish, do not have relatives in the parish - so may have been born elsewhere.

The baptism in 1843 is worrying - but not impossible - and it is important to know exactly what the register says. Normally a Church of England baptism would take place within a few months of the birth, while your Thomas, if it is he, would have been 6 or 7 years old. While there is nowhere in the baptism registers to record such information many ministers would record that it was a child (or adult) baptism in the margin. Does the Watford register record this - and if not are there other entries in the register to show if the minister was in the practice of making such records. One must wonder why, having not had the child baptised as an infant, they decided to have him baptised in 1843. (It may be impossible to find the trigger. One possibility is that if George and Elizabeth had separated Elizabeth sought counselling from the parish priest who discovered with horror that Thomas had never been baptised.)

FreeBMD does not record parent names for births so they are probably irrelevant (but see Right Name Wrong Body) - but it is interesting to note that a Thomas Buckingham was registered in Hemel Hempstead in 1840, and another in Barnet in September 1843 (which could well represent a  tardy registration of a birth in June).

In the 1841 census Elizabeth and her son are living with relatives and George is nowhere to be seen. In the 1851 census "your" George and Elizabeth are at separate addresses and both describe themselves as "married". In the 1861 census they are at separate addresses but George is unmarried while Elizabeth is a widow. If this is the right George one must wonder whether the 1835 wedding was a shotgun marriage with George deserting soon after, perhaps even before, Thomas's birth. By 1861 everyone was forgetting the past. There may have been no contact between George (in Watford) and Elizabeth (now in London) for years and if they were illiterate (as most working people of that age were) they could not even have exchanged letters. In 1861 Elizabeth may not even known whether George was alive or dead - and socially far better to be a widow than the shame of a wife who was not living with her husband.

On the Ancestry family tree you mention that Thomas's father George was described as a butler when Thomas married in 1859 - and you wondered if this was compatible with George having elsewhere been described as a gardener. There are three things to consider.

Reviewing the above I feel that the interpretation you place on the known facts is plausible and has a good but not excellent chance of being what actually happened. The difficulty is in proving you have the right George, as detailed surviving records about the working class - such as employed servants - rarely survives.

There is only one place I can think of where you may be lucky - and even that is in doubt. If George deserted Elizabeth and young Thomas in the late 1830s they could have become destitute and ended up in the Watford workhouse records These records are most likely to be at HALS if they have survived - and for most workhouses such records were destroyed years ago as being of no possible interest to anyone. However no-one wanted to go into the workhouse if it could be avoided and the 1841 census suggests that Elizabeth may have been supported by family.

Page created July 2009