I suppose it is inevitable at some point that even the most fastidious genealogist is going to miss double checking a critical piece of information and go galloping into the unknown firmly believing that they are on the right track. This was the case for a branch of my Birds who, for a number of years, I researched unquestioningly, totally convinced that they were part of my tree.
In week 43 I wrote about William Bird, the builder who built a chunk of Lambeth and Brixton and who, in my uncle's unpublished autobiography, was described as "William Bird of Newnham". He was a pivotal person in my adopted Bird Tree who enabled his forebears to live in comparative luxury compared to individuals on my birth tree who lived in poverty in the slums of London.
Knowing I was looking for someone from Newnham, I found an IGI entry (Family Search), without source information, of a “Wm Bird born about 1773 Newnham” with parents Samuel BIRD & Mary HALL. It said Newnham was a small village in Northamptonshire so, some weeks later, my wife and I drove up to the Northampton records office looking for my William.
We went through all the microfiche records for Newnham and couldn't find a single 'BIRD' but, when we searched the next door village of Everdon, we were spoilt for choice and there were so many 'Birds' that it was obvious that I had uncovered the origin of my Bird family. To prove the point, we found what I thought was the source of the IGI entry - "William Bird born in Everdon on 22nd November 1772 with parents Samuel & Mary". He must have been born in Everdon and then moved to Newnham and thus got the tag "William Bird of Newnham". Everything fitted and we went home happy.
Over the next year or so I continued to develop the tree which eventually went back to a John Bird of 1665 - the time of the Great Fire of London. I communicated with distant cousins descended from my new found ancestors and had no reason to doubt my relationship with them.
The weakest link
In hindsight, it was pretty obvious that my research was built on chalk because:
- I hadn't found William's wife's maiden name and all I knew, from William's Will of 1833, was that her name was Sarah Elizabeth Bird.
- I also hadn't actually found William's baptism or burial records which might have shown his parentage or his date of birth.
It is difficult for me to admit, but my research had this weak link which was so tenuous that it deserved to snap, and snap it did !
What evidence came to light that was to send a shiver down my spine to tell me my endeavors over a long period of time had been wasted and I had been on a fool's errand ?
I knew that Sarah and her children had benefited from a number of trusts set up by her husband on his death in 1833. I eventually obtained a copy of Sarah's Will which she wrote in 1850. One of the many beneficiaries was HARRIET ELISHA, described as her “sister”. This led to me finding Harriet's subsequent death in 1861 and her burial in Norwood Cemetery, Lambeth. It showed that she was the Widow of CLIFFORD ELISHA, a clerk at Shoreditch Church. I then found their marriage which took place in 1812. The marriage certificate showed Sarah Bird as a witness and said Harriet's maiden name was ......... ELLIOTT.
So Sarah must also have been an Elliott which then made me recall that Sarah's first son was named William Henry Elliott Bird. How stupid of me not to wonder whether 'Elliott' might be her maiden name. How basic is that ?
This was confirmed when I found the marriage of William Bird and Sarah Elizabeth Elliott which took place in Holborn in 1799. However, there were no ages shown on the parish record and no indication of their parentage.
More and more information is coming online and I would like to think that the subsequent discoveries were not available when I originally searched.
I found William's burial record in 1833. This said he was 76 years old and therefore born in 1757 which meant he couldn't possibly be the “Wm Bird born about 1773 Newnham” on the IGI records or the son of Samuel and Mary as they would have been 5 and 7 years old respectively !
At this point I realised that all my research on the Everdon ancestors, which I had painstakingly carried out, was all on a completely different Bird family. However, I still clung to my belief that the Newnham mentioned in my Uncle's autobiography was the one in Northamptonshire ...... as there were so many Birds who were born, married and died in that area that no alternative could be contemplated and was so unlikely as to be laughable !
I then found Sarah's burial records in 1866. She was buried in the same cemetary as her sister, Harriett, and was aged 89. This suggested she was born about 1777.
The final light bulb moment
I then looked on IGI for evidence of her baptism which I found took place on 30th August 1778 in Newnham ........ not the Newnham in Northamptonshire but the Newnham in KENT !
The moral to the story is don't assume anything in this game - as Fox Mulder would say "The truth is out there" ....... or it will be eventually.