Family history research in the nineteenth century is usually based on General Registration certificates of birth, marriage and death, together with the decennial census returns enumerated from 1841 onwards. But newspaper records can help fill in fascinating details about our ancestors' lives, bringing them alive in a way that few other records can.
One such example is with the Kerry family of Suffolk. Genealogical sources had revealed them in census returns, GRO records and parish registers. Dennis Kerry was baptised in Wattisfield in 1796, and lived most of his life in the village of Badwell Ash, in North Suffolk. He and his sons were consistently recorded as agricultural labourers, as was the majority of the rural population at the time. They did not leave wills, and it is often difficult to find out more about our normal, working ancestors.
However, here we were aided by the digitised newspaper collection, which included the Suffolk publications The Bury and Norwich Post as well as The Suffolk Chronicle. These newspapers included information on family notices of birth, marriage and death, local tradesmen's adverts, as well as records of the local petty and quarter sessions.
The reports in the local newspaper made for intriguing reading. Dennis Kerry married his wife Ann Makins in 1820, but in 1830 he was charged with abandoning here. Dennis was recorded in The Suffolk Chronicle of 23rd October 1830 as being committed to the Bury St Edmunds Gaol, for leaving his wife and family, thus making her chargeable to the parish.
Parish registers indicate that Dennis quickly returned to his wife, and they continued baptising children at Badwell Ash until the year 1839.
Dennis and his family appear in later newspapers, for a variety of reasons. The Suffolk Chronicle of 12th January 1861, showed that he was convicted to ten days hard labour at the Ixworth Petty Sessions for steeling turnips.
In 1873 Dennis and his wife Ann were called as witnesses to a theft of money, as recorded in the Bury and Norwich Post. Two years later, in 1875, their son James, and grandson John Kerry, were convicted together of stealing "two ash poles". This was again recorded in the Bury and Norwich Post.
This newspaper record gives valuable information about who the Kerrys were working for, in a way that few other records do. It is interesting to find that the son was let off, and the father given 14 days hard labour. Young John would have been 17 at this time, and the court clearly felt that his father had led him astray.
Newspaper entries relating to the Kerry family covered many decades and several generations of the same family, finding reference to them from the 1830s onwards. Whilst Dennis was convicted of leaving his wife, he clearly returned to the parish of Badwell Ash, where he and Ann were witnesses to a theft in later decades. Dennis himself stole some turnips in the 1860s, perhaps to help feed his family, whilst his son and grandson later stole wooden poles from their employer. An interesting investigation indeed.
When researching family trees, one thing can be always counted on – that our ancestors will appear in the records under many different variants of their name. Whether it is using a forename and middle name interchangeably, or a shortened version of their name, or simply a nickname that appears to bear no relation to their actual name. Think of Jack, or Polly – both were used for the names John and Mary, but also seemingly at random!
A birth record from 1882 is a case in point. The enigmatically named Ann Bertha Cecilia Diana Emily Fanny Gertrude Hypatia Inez Jane Kate Louisa Maud Nora Ophelia Quince Rebecca Starkey Teresa Ulysis Venus Winifred Xenophen Yetty Zeus Pepper was born on 19th December 1882 in West Derby, Liverpool.
Her parents were Arthur Pepper, a laundry man, and his wife Sarah Jane Pepper, formerly Creighton. When they came to baptise Ann, on 2nd January 1883, the vicar chose to record her as Ann Starkie Pepper, using a spelling variant of "Starkey" as shown on her birth certificate. Perhaps her parents chose to record this as the most important of her middle names. Indeed, this was the only name given to her which was also a surname, and perhaps commemorated a maternal line from further up the family tree.
Census records reveal the Pepper family in the 1891 census, having moved down to London. Arthur and Sarah did not have any further children, and had clearly decided to name their daughter creatively!
The 1891 census shows Ann as "Anne Pepper" with no indication of her middle names, and a slight variant in spelling of her first name.
But what became of young Ann, and did she use her alphabet-inspired surname in later life? Her parents died relatively young, her mother Sarah in 1899, and her father in 1908. There is no trace of Ann in census returns or English General Registration after this time, and it appears likely that she therefore left the country.
In fact, shipping records show one Nan Pepper of the right age, travelling to the US in 1906. Following her through later records in America, reveals her recorded as both Ann and Nan, and using a middle name of Starkey.
She married one Arthur Wait, and passed her surname of Pepper onto her son.
Thus, over her lifetime Ann used a number of variants of her unique birth name. She used Ann, Anne and Nan as her forenames, and Starkey and Starkie as a middle name, seemingly dropping the 23 other middle names given to her by her parents! Life must have been much easier that way, but demonstrates the difficulties which can be encountered in genealogy when dealing with such name variants.
“..the details certainly make very interesting reading for me as you have uncovered much more than I ever heard my mother mention. I do appreciate all the work you have put into this.”
G.M.R., Bury St Edmunds
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